Mr Owl Turned Six

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!

(This is officially how I help put food on the table. If you’ve found this article useful, please feel free to use the Koha button just above my blogroll. Even the smallest amount is appreciated. 🙂 )

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About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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32 Responses to Mr Owl Turned Six

  1. Judy says:

    I love how you have so much insight into your parenting! Not only did you research and put a lot of thought into raising your son, you are able to admit to things you might have done differently in retrospect. That is fantastic, because we learn so much from our children and sharing it is so helpful for other parents, too.

    Your journey as a mom is very clear and your son is fortunate to have so much dedication and love from his parents.

    You are my inspiration! Judy

    • Hey, I’m not meant to be inspiring you! I do love to reflect on what is going on with our kids and now I have a fair idea of what the true cause and effects of their behaviours are. Interestingly, I had been teaching for 13 years before I became a Mum and had no idea about temperament or *really* how children became who they are. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  2. otownmommy says:

    happy birthday 🙂
    What a great idea to have all the kids in thier jammies, and teeth brushed and off to thier own beds. how were the “good byes” were there lots of teers? We have problems saying good bye (at almost 4) so I hope that passes by the time 6 rolls around.
    I think for a lot of us it is really hard to just let them “figure things out”. We would not make “gasps” when Loveliness fell and we would just say “you ok?” and she never would be upset, she had confidence and learned to be quite stable on her feet. With Sunshine we seemed to forget that, and we have now had to go back to it.

    you mentioned “elimination approach to your diet” ?

    We always made quick good byes, “mom has to go to the store now, we will be back soon” and I would leave. and it has always worked. there were be some tears, but they went away and now its no problem at all

    great post 🙂

    • Hi O Town,
      The children at the party all went home once in their pjs and story time was over. So no tears, we just got the excitement of getting organised together. Our Owl sometimes had tears at farewells until he was five, then it all seemed to gel for him.
      It’s incredible how much we forget from child to child, isn’t it? We often don’t even ask our kids if they’re OK when they fall. we just say, “uh oh” and then smile. If they’re really hurt it’s usually pretty obvious which is when we just sweep them into our arms for a Boring Cuddle. The elimination approach is when you remove all things you suspect are causing the problem – in our case it would have been grains and dairy to begin with, and see if that makes a difference to the baby. If it does make a difference you then bring back one thing into the diet, say dairy, then if there is no regression you know it’s the grains at the root of the problem. If there are no changes you then remove other things from your diet.
      Good for you with the quick good-byes, they certainly do seem to work! 🙂

  3. Happy Birthday Owl child!

  4. Laura Weldon says:

    The birthday of your firstborn is also your birth as a mother. Happy Sixth Anniversary of Motherhood.

    • Thanks for your good wishes Laura
      …except, he’s my second born…first born is nearly nine and a half…
      I’m celebrating *his* conception around 10 years ago as my anniversary of mothering…

  5. hakea says:

    If you hadn’t met his emotional needs when they arose (as difficult as it was for you) he would have been a much more needy kid now.

    John Bowlby formed his attachment theory for humans on feedback systems he observed in engineering. After six years learning about child mental health, I could sum up my masters degree in just a few words “see a need, meet the need”. When the need is not met, the person creates a system of behaviours in an effort to have the need met.

    My second was so clingy to me, and he screamed so loud when separated the neighbours would look over the fence. He happily went to daycare, but when he was with me he was on my hip during his waking hours. He wouldn’t co-sleep though. They’re all different, aren’t they?

    I’ll bet those critics don’t acknowledge all the hard work you put in.

    • Nope, they don’t. Apparently there is no relation to how he is now and us meeting his emotional needs then – according to *those* people. I think some of their comments were from genuine concern for my mental health, and with reason – it was extraordinarily difficult at times and I must have looked like nothing on earth – little sleep, no time for a haircut, difficult to get a shower. Luckily for him he was second born and I had read Blowby and Ainsworth by then, and it made sense. The effort was worth it, for sure.
      The way kids need their needs met can certainly differ, I agree, and I think there are a lot of people who don’t understand the signs and signals that their kids give them. hmmmm.

  6. Fiona says:

    I’ve become a regular visitor to your blog and always enjoy what you have to say. In fact you inspire me with the things you write about. I have awarded you with a ‘Versatile Blogger’ award; I’m hoping you’ll join in the fun and also discover some of the other interesting blogs that I enjoy visiting.

    Please let me know if you’d like to claim the award, the details are available from http://fbiedermann.blogspot.com/2011/04/im-versatile-blogger.html

  7. Thanks Fiona.
    It’s always good to hear from people who enjoy my blog. I am not going to take this any further, simply due to the fact that I have received others before and haven’t taken them up. I subscribe to many blogs, all of which I enjoy and I simply wouldn’t feel comfortable singling out a few. I do appreciate your support and hope you continue to stop by. 🙂

    • Fiona says:

      I read this and loved that you said no – strange I know. But you did exactly what I considered doing when I received it. I actually felt uncomfortable when several people commented on my blog afterwards and I realised I hadn’t included them in my list.
      Lesson learnt here and of course I’ll be back 🙂

  8. faemom says:

    I stand amazed by the awesomeness of your parenting. God, I wish I was half as good as you.

    Happy belated Birthday, Mr. Owl!

    • Believe me faemom, it’s not all awesomeness…that’s why I feel comfortable sharing. I am living it as I speak, so I’m in the fray and doing a lot *wrong*. We also made huge mistakes with the Hare, the consequences of which we are still dealing with – so if I can help others avoid them…all well and good. AND I don’t have a baby – *that* has been the huge difference for me.

  9. lilzbear says:

    One of my favorite posts so far :).
    We have such a independent baby, I cannot even imagine all the hard work that must have gone in the last 6 years to raise a very sensitive child.
    Happy Birthday Mr. Owl!

    • The Hare was/is very sociable and it was all a bit of a shock to have the Owl. I think the hardest thing was people telling us we’d made him sensitive. The emotional intensity *was* incredible – it was like a marathon for me… but I knew we’d get there in the end if I just stuck with him, and we did. Luckily for my sanity the Butterfly is the most relaxed and sociable of the lot – if I’d had another sensitive baby I would have done the same, but I doubt I’d be very happy about it. Pleased you liked the post.

  10. lindamciver says:

    I totally agree with giving them the support they need, which makes them into stronger, more independent adults in the long term.

    An alternative to making separations fast is to put them in the control of the sensitive one. We said to our 3 year old that we would go when she was ready – she had to give us permission to leave. The kinder teacher argued passionately against it, saying that she would manipulate us, but we persisted.

    She very quickly got to the point where we were leaving in under 5 minutes. But on the rare days when she needed us to stay longer, we would (and there was always a reason, even if it sometimes too us a while to work it out!). When she started school she knew we would stay as long as we wanted her to – and she sent us away before the first bell. She never had any separation anxiety at school. I believe it’s because we gave her control.

    • Hi Linda,
      That sounds like a great strategy. I do think giving children a sense that they can manage their stress only works IF they understand that we will help them out when things become overwhelming for them. Thanks for adding your thoughts to the ‘conversation.’

  11. MamaWerewolf says:

    Happy Birthday Owl – as A.A. Milne says, “Now, now I am six I’m as clever as clever. I think I’ll be six for ever and ever!”

    I love the way you phrase the difference between “Power Tantrum” and “Distress Tantrum”. This feels very instinctual to know the difference and these descriptors help clarify the two so concretely.

    • Thanks, the concept of the two different kinds of tantrum comes from ‘The Science of Parenting’ by Margot Sunderland. I have taken it all a bit further and split the distress tantrums into different kinds, because they all need to be handled differently…

  12. Wow, what a beautiful post! I relate in so many ways to the entire passage. My first was very “laid back” but not a good sleeper, a big eater, and not obvious in his need for more closeness than “average.” (You’ve read about him 🙂 I loved your comment about chanting “this will pass…” I told myself the same thing on many occasions (and still do!). You’re an exceptional parent, and I also love your “what I would do differently.”
    When Mathias began Montessori this year, the teacher insisted that we pull up in the car, she greets the child in the car, takes them out of the car seat, and walks them to the gate. I was mortified. He was familiar with the school, and knew on his first day that he was going, but it was a little scary. I trust the teacher, and she said after many years of experience it was the best technique. She said if parents linger it makes a big separation drama. Start the routine from day one. She was right. All routines have been so important to him.
    Friday, Daddy had the day off from work. He wanted to keep Mathias at home from school. I suggested not, as it is his routine, and I didn’t want him thinking whenever Daddy is home he doesn’t have to go to school. He needed to accept (as you said, just like in the real world), we have our obligations. I perceive his school as his “obligation.” He started the program at 2 1/2ish, and has done so well. His speech went from 0-60 in a month, he counts like crazy, and best of all he is learning to accept, respect, and care for others.
    Ok, I went off on a tangent there….
    I LOVED YOUR POST!
    Thank you for all that you write…..
    Erin
    Happy Birthday OWL!

    • Hi Erin,
      I agree that routines are important and our children’s obligation is to attend school/kindergarten (which is one of the reasons I think spending the time to find a great one is so important). I do keep our kids home more than most parents I know – in response to their bodies’ need for sleep usually, and they know that this will lessen over time. Our older kids love that Craig can drop them off or pick them up on the days that he is home and they accept that each of them, including Craig, gets to have time at home without the others around. I think it makes their home-days more special, too. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  13. Asta Burrows says:

    I still find it very interesting to see how my wee lad is turning into a little person, and how little difference my influence seems to make… Dont’ get me wrong, of course I do my best to help mould him into a polite and kind person, but there are certain things about him and the way he is, that it seems he was just born with. Before I had him I guess I thought that as a parent I would have more influence on him, for instance, I have always thought that my parents were partly to be blame for me being very shy… and now my little lad is shy, he has been since he was born! Of course I can do my best to help him overcome it, but still, there are certain things he is born with, and in a way it is fascinating – and it takes some of the pressure off me as a parent I think. It was great to read about your Owl and how he has turned into a confident young boy, probably because you have nurtured him and letting him be who he is. (Sorry, this comment turned into a bit of rambling, but am at work, so don’t have time to go through and edit it 🙂 But what I wanted to say is that I really enjoyed this post!)

    • Hi Asta,
      Yes kids certainly come pre-packaged with a definite temperament! Having had three with three very different temperaments it’s been interesting to say the least. I have come to the conclusion that we’re here to help them be the best version of themselves they can be. And some kids just need more nurturing than others. Have you read my post about Boring Cuddles? (Quick Way to Stop Children Fussing) that’s been one of our key strategies with helping our kids become confident. If your little man is like our Owl it might take until he is four or five to find his feet. No worries about the long comment…I’m sure I’ve rambled on a few times in the blogosphere too – makes it all more like a *real* conversation. 🙂

  14. I recognize a lot in your description (20-minute naps in arms, night-waking and co-sleeping, breastfeeding till age 3, watching for a long time before joining in activities); my son’s intense sensitive temperament was a complete shock to me, but am so glad I was able to respond to it intuitively and give him the comfort and closeness he needed despite others’ concerns about “making him clingy.”

    • Absolutely! Good for you.
      Our Mr Owl has just started school and is one of the most self-assured kids in his class – talk about satisfying!! We did have to nudge him sometimes, when he was ready to do things but just didn’t know it for himself. I now use the phrase, I know you can manage, or I wouldn’t ask you to do it – a lot and that seems to resonate with him. He also gets very stubborn when he’s overwhelmed…But what an awesome kid, so pleased I took the path I did – as I can see you are. Thanks for commenting – I love to hear from readers. 🙂

  15. Angela Harford says:

    Hey there. Thanks, this answered a question I had about my daughter clinging to me when I left her at school. I knew she was quite happy as soon as I’d left but still felt like she needed that little extra cuddle before I left her there. I think she was just testing me to see how long she could get me to say. Now I just give her a quick hug, say goodbye and leave straight away and she’s fine! I’m pretty sure she’s an Owl as well but I must be doing something right as when she was in Kindergarten she turned out to be quite self assured and even bossy with the other kids!

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