When Charles Dickens wrote "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," I'm pretty sure he was talking about having an infant. In no other stage of life will you ever fluctuate between complete joy to utter despair so quickly, sometimes feeling wonder and woe at the same time. Finding the right positive parenting techniques for your infant can be challenging: There's no shortage of advice on what you "should" do, but since no two babies (or parents) are the same, much of it can leave you more frustrated than your screaming infant. But don't despair just yet: Experts are now putting an entirely new spin on what it means to practice positive parenting with infants, and these strategies will save you so much stress.
The term "positive parenting" refers to a practice that, according to an article on The Bump's website, began in the 1960s when parents started thinking maybe discipline in the form of punishments or rewards wasn't the best way to raise children. Instead, by really listening to children and getting to the root of certain behaviors, they believed the bond between parent and child would be stronger, and children would grow up into more emotionally intelligent adults. Less time-outs, more time treating your child like an actual human being with their own feelings, thoughts, and individual preferences.
But what does that mean when your child is still an infant and can't yet talk to you? How are you supposed to positively parent someone you are positively sure doesn't understand anything you're asking? According to Joshua Castillo (parenting coach, early childhood consultant, and owner of Ask the Child Whisperer), positive parenting when it comes to an infant has less to do with your baby, and everything to do with you, the parent. Her advice is certain to give you new insight into that age old parenting question: What the hell am I supposed to do with this baby?
1. It all starts with you
The first thing Castillo says about positive parenting when it comes to an infant is that it "doesn't start with the infant at all." She states, "When you've only been a parent for two months, that means you only have two months of resources available. You are the same age as your infant," which, obviously, means that you can't put so much pressure on yourself to have it all figured out.
"If you take away the parent/child title," she continues, "you would never expect perfection in any other relationship at this early stage." So in the case of your infant, positive parenting begins with giving yourself a break. You, and your baby, are still figuring it all out, and that's exactly how it should be. She continues, "Be realistic about what you're working with in any given moment. That's the most positive thing you can do."
2. Not everything you read pertains to you/your baby
To be sure, there is a lot of parenting advice out there thanks to the internet and social media. Anyone can call themselves an expert these days and websites are all clamoring to grab your attention with buzzy titles. This, Castillo cautions, is the antithesis of positive parenting. "Whenever someone writes an article or a book about parenting techniques they are envisioning a particular kind of child and speaking to what may work for that kind of child. What that means is that most of the time these articles won't apply to you. It's not possible for them to be all-encompassing. You have to know going in that not everything will be tailored to your child, or you."
She gives an example of this I'm sure many can relate to: Finding the perfect little black dress. "We don't all own the same little black dress. What's perfect for one may be awful for someone else. Yet when it comes to parenting we all go to the same books and try to shove ourselves in the same size eight dress."
The takeaway? Before you drive yourself crazy reading everything the internet has to offer on how to "properly" raise your infant, just know that none of it was written with your unique baby in mind.
3. Don't be afraid to move slowly
Pop quiz time. You hear your baby crying, what do you do? If your answer is to run as fast as possible to soothe/feed/change, you may need to re-think your reaction, according to Castillo. "Every time you run," she says, "you are sending a message to your infant that says, 'yes, screaming because you are wet is an appropriate response.'" Instead, she explains, you can utilize positive parenting by slowing down and assessing what's really going on before you respond: Is it an emergency or does baby just need to eat?
This may not be easy, but it's also much better for your health as well. "Every time you 'run' in response to a crying infant, you are flooding yourself with adrenaline, which is so bad for you." By taking a moment, staying calm, and talking it out with your child, you're teaching them the difference between 911, and just going number 1.
4. Separate your own history from your child's experiences
Okay, this is a big one. In order to really practice positive parenting, Castillo feels you must work through your past traumas and triggers. As she states, "You can't parent ghosts." In other words: Your child isn't you and didn't experience what you did as a child, so don't displace your experiences on them. She gives this example: "Let's say you were force fed carrots growing up, and because of that you hate carrots. Subconsciously you may not give your kid carrots, then. But what if your child loves carrots? They should have the ability to decide that for themselves."
This isn't always about carrots, obviously. Lots of people tend to parent the extreme opposite from whatever they experienced as a child. Castillo says this is understandable, but also wants parents to move past it and to "be open enough to just see your child. It's not all about you."
5. Stop judging other parents
Friends, it's time for a little tough love. You need to stop judging other parents for everything they do, or don't do. It's not a good look, and it's actually damaging your own ability to parent positively. Castillo sees this as a huge problem, telling Romper, "When I teach infant classes, I see mothers tearing each other apart with their glances. If one mom comes in wearing a cute outfit or makeup, I can feel it (judgment) in the room. 'How come she can be so put together when we're all in yoga pants?' What we don't realize though is that maybe putting on that full face of makeup is the only thing keeping that mom together."
Castillo advises that instead of judging others without knowing the whole story, we should do two things: applaud every parent for their "wins," and take the time to actually get to know other parents because you never know who can help you as you build your "village." "The shift of positive parenting for me," she adds, "is that any time you're around other parents, you've entered a 'village' of others who can share in your journey."
Maybe that mom you wanted to judge for looking "too good to have an infant" may actually have the perfect solution for your teething woes. You'll never know if you don't get to her first.
6. Talk your way through it
Having an infant can be really isolating. You aren't around other adults very often and your audience (read: baby) mostly just sleeps, eats, poops, and cries. Castillo still wants you to talk it out any chance you get. And that includes to your baby. "Saying it out loud to your infant, 'Hey, we're in this together, okay? I don't know what the hell happens to you between 3 and 4 p.m. when all you do is scream, but we'll figure it out.'" Amen!
She wants parents of infants to know that talking is key when it comes to positive parenting. Talk to your baby, talk to your partner, talk to your friends, talk to your healthcare professionals. Keep talking about your struggles, and your victories, because they all matter and they all help shape your individual parenting journey.