I feel like I’ve been saying, the Owl is nearly six, for a long time. And now here we are, the big event has now been and gone. He had an Almost Overnight Party. I got the idea from Carrie at The Parenting Passageway, a fabulous home school Steiner site, if you’re that way inclined, and a fabulous parenting site if you’re not (her link is on my blogroll).
Five of the Owl’s mates came around at 5.00pm, they played outside for an hour (thanks weather fairies for keeping it dry and mild): there were bikes, they made good use of the sandpit and the atmosphere was one of general testosterone lunacy. We fed them the highly unhealthy but fun-food of a sausage in a bit of bread with hot chips followed by an Eskimo Pie ice-cream (vanilla ice-cream in a dark chocolate covering) – very un-Steiner I know. 😉 Then had a couple of games and had the cake and song bit. Got them to brush their teeth and put on their pjs, read them some stories…then their parents came and took them home. Brilliant.
His birthday got me thinking about the past six years: the Owl was born super-sensitive. He was sensitive to the point where he screamed (the high-pitched panic type) when anyone took him away from me, even Craig – from three days old. Or he would vomit on the other person, or me when he was returned to me. He was only happy literally on my body until he began to crawl at nine-months, and he never wanted me far away from him. To begin with he slept for a maximum of 20 minutes at a stretch during the day and I was excited when he got to an hour and a half at a stretch at night. At one point I was so slept deprived I had to chant…this will pass…this will pass…to myself as he fed at night. (Instead of screaming with frustration, as I wanted to.) He stopped feeding from me at three years and eight months when I was pregnant with the Butterfly ’cause it hurt. I think he’d still be feeding now if I hadn’t called it quits.
The first six months at kindergarten (which is as warm, nurturing, calm, quiet and understanding as you get them) he spent sitting on a chair watching the others play. Thank heavens he was allowed to.
We were told by several people (many of whom are still convinced by their opinions) that we ‘did it to him.’ According to them, we made him sensitive by nurturing him as much as he wanted and needed. We were turning him into a dependent Mummy’s boy.
Yet, at three and a half he was riding his bike without training wheels. He has always managed to assert himself with the Hare and he is now one of the most self-assured six-year-old children I know. He will climb most things, is often braver than the nine-year old Hare and now rarely clings or panics like any of the other children I knew as sensitive babies. The new kindergarten teacher commented to me how self-assured he is. She hadn’t realised how sensitive and worried he was when he was younger. He is the leader of his class: the one most of the ideas and he’s not afraid to express them.
So how did we help a highly-panicky baby become a self-assured six-year old?
Satisfying his dependency needs was the first key. We knew it was going to be an intense first five years. (I began all of my research when he was 8 weeks old and had begun some general reading just before he was born.) And, my word, they were more emotionally intense than I could have possibly imagined. I often commented I felt like a prune with my emotions sucked dry. Bed-sharing was important and continues to be. Demand feeding was essential. He needed to comfort suck, so he did.
Allowing him to hurt himself, just a little and at his own pace was a factor. When he rolled, we didn’t stop him from banging his head on the tiled bits of the floor. When he walked and fell, we let him fall. When he hit his head on the corner of the table, the most we did to protect him was put our hand over the corner – if we were there. I held him in a hundred-thousand Boring Cuddles ( Quick Way to Stop Children Fussing ) every time he came to me in pain or sorrow or frustration.
We supported his emotions, but we didn’t let him dominate with his behaviour. That is, we worked out when he was having Power Tantrums and needed ignoring and when he was having Distress Tantrums and needed holding. After we were sure he had full object permanence (he knew I existed all the time he couldn’t see me, and could hold a comforting image of me in his imagination) at 24 months, I started at Toastmasters. I continued to go once a week for 18 months despite his Power Tantrums. (Thanks Craig, Marg and Carol.) Yet, until he was four I was never out past 9.30pm, if I went out at all, when I knew he would wake and scream (you could set your watch by him) and would only resettle if I was there. He did that until he was four.
I also agreed to his plan to be absent during his first term of swimming without me in the pool (I’d been in with him for the first year or so). My parents took him for his weekly lesson and I stayed away until he was confident he could manage for himself with me around – at his insistence and with his explanation (he’d be focussed on me and not on the swimming) of his concerns. (Not bad emotional intelligence for a four and a half-year old!)
There are only three things I would do differently…if we had to do it all again. I’d use a pacifier to help my poor breasts cope with al the comfort sucking. I’d take an elimination type approach to my diet to make sure I wasn’t making him sore.
And thirdly, and possibly the one which is the hardest for a mother with a highly-sensitive child – I’d make (post 2 year-old) separations quicker. While I did this for my Toastmasters jaunts, I didn’t do it for kindergarten. I thought I was being supportive by hanging around for ages. Turned out he was churning: “Mummy’s going to go, when’s she going to go…Mummy’s going to go, when’s she going to go…” Making himself more and more anxious and not allowing himself to get on with the business of watching the other children, and later: playing. For these highly-sensitive children, once properly orientated (takes longer than most), the deliver and leave method works best. Now, I can stay and chat with other parents or teachers, or watch him play for ages and he doesn’t bat an eye-lid – but it took him two years to get to that point.
We have learned or developed a few other handy tricks to handle his hyper-sensitivity too, but I’ll leave them for another post. Right now it’s past my bed-time.
Happy Birthday Mr Owl!
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