Parenting Through the Debates: The Aware Baby

1 May

Title: The Aware Baby, revised edition (2001)
Author: Aletha J. Solter,, Ph.D
Credentials: Solter has an MA in biology and Ph.D. in psychology. She leads workshops for parents and founded the Aware Parenting Institute. She has two grown children.
Genre: Parenting handbook; philosophy of parenting
Audience: “Attachment” parents; those interested in psychology

No-Method Method Summary:

Solter’s mission is to change the world through “aware” parenting. She believes that the majority of violence in the world is caused by a lack of compassionate parenting. Her major contribution to the debates is the idea that babies–and adults–need to cry to release their emotions, work out stress, and heal from trauma. In many situations, she recommends providing a loving environment for children to cry. She strongly advises against leaving a baby to cry alone. She offers some support for the idea that parenting is culturally determined and provides examples from many cultures to show a variety of parenting styles. She believes that, since babies in developed countries are no longer at immediate risk of death or malnourishment, parents should turn their focus to the best practices for raising compassionate, non-violent, emotionally attuned adults. Every chapter has a list of exercises for you to do in three categories: Exploring your childhood; Expressing your feelings about your baby; Nurturing yourself.

Verdict:

I started off by hating this book. The idea that children need to cry is counterintuitive, especially since I spent the first four months of my daughter’s life desperately trying to get her to stop crying. Thinking about it, however, I realized that I like to cry sometimes, so it’s quite possible that a baby might, too. Still, the notion that babies need to work out the trauma of their birth sounds preposterous to me. She seems to think of life as a perpetual trauma, an idea that I know has some currency with certain psychologists that that I think is perfect nonsense. Many of her ideas are commonsense and easy to put into practice, but parents on both sides of the spectrum will resist her suggestions. The book is not easy to read; the style is academic and a bit off-putting.

One major objection I had: according to her, if you get angry or frustrated while trying to let your baby cry, you have unresolved trauma from being let cry alone or from not being permitted to cry. By saying that, she effectively silences any opponents: if you don’t like her suggestions, you are a traumatized individual who needs healing.

To her credit, she really does think that her advice can change the world. She’s not just trying to make money by becoming a household name.

Recommended only if you’re particularly interested in this summary.

Related Books:
Sears, The Baby Book
Cohen, Lawrence, Playful Parenting

Gerber, Dear Parent: Caring For Infants With Respect
Leo, Pam, Connection Parenting

***

Introduction:

Parents raise children to fit into their specific cultures–cooperation, obedience, dependence, independence, conformity, pride, humility; emphasis on motor skills or language skills or social skills. But hardly any cultures focus on raising kids to be nonviolent, and we should. The way to do this is allow children to express their emotions in order to heal from trauma.

Solter lays out the book’s assumptions: 1) Babies know what they need. 2) If babies’ needs are met, they will become compassionate and non-violent. 3) Babies are fragile, and early trauma can have long-lasting effects. 4) Babies can recover from many of the effects of stress and trauma.

Chapter 1. Beginnings: Letting your baby feel loved.

Stressed mothers produce stressed babies. Provide gentle prenatal stimulation through movement, singing, or rubbing when your baby is active in the womb. Try not to be stressed. Birth can be traumatic, especially if a mother opts for pain relief or has complications. People can remember their births. Circumcision is traumatic. Babies need to heal themselves from birth trauma, or they will grow up to be traumatized adults. Births should be as peaceful and low-intervention as possible. Midwives and doulas are good. Bonding is very important after birth, but it can take place over a period of time. [These sections are a little preachy about drugs.] It is common to be sad about the loss of your “ideal” baby. Newborns need warmth, physical contact, movement, heartbeat sounds, calm voices, quick and sensitive responses, frequent nursing, and low stimulation. Babies cannot be spoiled. Parents need help so they do not become isolated and ressentful. She does not advise women to work outside the home: “Be sure you have your priorities straight. Is an outside job really something you need to do right now? Or can it wait a year or two until your child is older?” (35).

Chapter 2. Crying: Letting Your Baby Release Tensions

Babies cry in all cultures, although the total amount does vary. Once you’ve met your baby’s needs, crying stems from a need to work out stress and heal from trauma. Babies should be allowed to cry, but never alone. Parents should not “suppress” crying by rocking, nursing, feeding, or pacifying. Babies who are pacified will develop control patterns and act out their emotions in other ways. Crying is a healthy release. If your baby has already learned to suppress crying, interfere with the control pattern and allow your baby to cry while holding her. If you find it hard to do, you probably were not allowed to cry when you were a baby, or you were left to cry alone. Adults should cry more, too.

Chapter 3. Food: Letting Your Baby Become Self-Regulated.

Breastfeeding is good, but being a happy mom is better. Babies can be overrnursed; babies who get to cry as much as they need don’t need to eat as often. Nursing is very frequent in hot, dry climates and less frequent in cold climates. Nursing should be continued for as long as the child wants. Solid foods should not be forced; it is best not to praise or comment on a baby’s eating. Food and love should be kept separate in the parent’s mind. [This is the best chapter–sensible and easy to put into practice. Many people, however, will disagree with her advice not to use nursing for comfort.]

Chapter 4. Sleep: Letting Your Baby Rest.

Babies should sleep with their parents. CIO is bad, but crying in-arms is good. “Many adults remember being sexually abused as small children.” Children who are held and cuddled enough will not display the Oedipus complex. Enough crying will eliminate night waking. Nursing to sleep is a control pattern. [Again, many people who might otherwise agree with Solter about sleep will disagree that nursing should not be used to put babies to sleep.]

Chapter 5. Play: Letting Your Baby Learn

Babies will let you know what they need to play. Babies are not as bored as often as adults think they are; they simply need to cry. It is best not to direct activities too much so babies don’t lose their spontaneity. Don’t push babies to do things. External rewards are unnecessary and can be harmful. Babies need interaction, freedom, attention, encouragement, and empathy. Feedback should be nonjudgmental, either good or bad. Types of games: contingency play (cause-and-effect); nonsense play (putting pants on your head; separation (peek-a-boo); power-reversal (letting baby push you over); mock attack (blowing on tummy–but no tickiling; that makes baby feel powerless). [This is a good chapter; I will definitely keep the different types of play in mind.]

Chapter 6. Conflicts: Letting Your Baby Feel Respected

Punishments and rewards are alike ineffective. Cooperation is a better skill to foster than obedience. Treating an obstreperous toddler with respect and patience will get you through those difficult years. Both authoritarian and permissive attitudes are bad. “Democratic discipline” is desirable: change environment, keep toys around, find solutions to meet both your needs. Example: if a baby hates having his diaper changed, change it standing up. This chapter contains examples of reactions for each type of discipline–useful illustration. Elicit cooperation from toddlers by giving in in situations that are not important (what shirt to wear); offer choices or be playful in more important situations; be firm but loving and allow child to cry. Accept tantrums with love. Aggressive toddlers need to release painful emotions. Act as a mediator and with compassion to teach children how to share. Don’t’ force toilet training: show your toddler how it works then let him decide whether to wear underpants or a diaper. Allow your toddler to masturbate. If you want to harm your baby, get therapy. [This chapter has helpful advice, but it is quite idealistic. Very few parents can display the sort of clever, patient, flexibility she advises all the time, and the chapter is quite guilt-inducing.]

Chapter 7. Attachment: Letting Your Baby Feel Safe.

Separation anxiety and stranger anxiety are normal in all cultures and generally indicate a strong attachment to the primary caregiver. Continuous care from the same caregiver, lots of physical closeness, prompt need fulfillment, sensitive interaction, acceptance of crying lead to secure attachment. A baby who will not be left alone may need to cry. It is best for women to care for the baby, but society is sexist, Fathers can be good caretakers too. Babies benefit from having more than one primary caregiver [this seems contradictory]. Daycare is bad; babies need one-to-one care. Limit the number of children to two per couple and space children at least three years apart. [This chapter places a lot of burdens on the primary caretaker, and she gives lip service to feminism by saying that both men and women can be caretakers, but she still doesn’t think women should work outside the home. Her advice to limit the number of children will not sit well with many parents.]

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