Why you should talk to your baby before changing their life

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My youngest child turned 18 months-old last week. She’s officially a toddler, talking and running and climbing stairs, and although I’m getting better at not treating her like a tiny infant, sometimes I forget how much she understands and thinks for herself. Here is a cautionary tale about why you should talk to your kids, even when they’re tiny, especially if you’re changing the routine on them. It helps, you guys, it really helps.

My daughter has been sleeping in my room since she was a baby, first in a co-sleeper and then in a crib. She still sometimes wakes up for an early morning feeding, but she’s more than ready to night-wean and my partner and I want our room back! So we decided that we’d move her in with her brother and carve back some space for just us.

We talked about timing and made careful plans, and then for various reasons, those plans didn’t work out and we ended up moving her crib into the new room more-or-less on a whim over last weekend. We talked with my 3 year-old about how Sister was going to sleep in his room now and made sure he felt okay about it. I assumed that our daughter would be fine, because it’s a familiar room and we were keeping her in the same crib, and she routinely sleeps in pack ‘n plays in strange rooms when we go to visit friends in the evening. But still, I completely and totally failed to, you know, actually explain to her what was going on. Because she’s a baby, right, and why would she care? I know better than that, but it was a day full of distractions and a last-minute decision, and it just didn’t cross my mind to explain it to her.

Anyway, we put her down in the new room at bedtime, and she was smiles and smiles until I closed the door. Then, utter panic and screaming! My partner and I were unprepared. We’d expected to maybe have some upset from my son, but neither of us thought the baby would have any trouble at all. We gave her a few minutes and then my partner went up to try to calm her down, but she was so upset that he eventually gave up and set up a pack ‘n play in our room where her crib used to be. It still took her forever to fall asleep, and she woke a few times overnight extra upset, which made us feel terrible, and also exhausted in the morning.

We decided to just try again the next time it seemed convenient, but I had no intention of trying again the next day when the first night was sooooo terrible. But then we got home from our errands later than I expected, and by the time we had finished lunch, we were late for my daughter’s naptime and it was already time for my son’s nap, and I had an inkling that maybe she would be calmer if her brother was in the room with her when she laid down. So, I asked them both together where they would like to have their naps. My son said “Sister sleep with me!” (isn’t he a cutie?) I told the baby, “Baby, you can have naptime in your crib in Brother’s room, or in the pack ‘n play in our room. Where would you like to sleep?” She ran into her brother’s room and stood waiting by the crib, where she then slept for 2.5 hours with no fuss at all (even though Brother didn’t fall asleep for the entire naptime, and spent the whole afternoon singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and making raspberries with his mouth!) That night at bedtime, she fell right asleep, and though we’re having some frustration from her when she wakes up an wants to nurse at 5:30AM, I’m much more confident that we’re all in for a good night.

Two morals to this story:
1) Talk to your babies, even when they’re tiny. It helps them know what to expect and it helps get you in the habit of explaining what’s going on to them, which is better for everyone once they get older and understand what you’re saying.

2) Realize that your babies get smarter, and that you need to respond to their growing intelligences by helping them make decisions and control their own lives, as appropriate. I know that sounds obvious, but I think a lot of us pay attention to “milestones”, like walking or saying the first word, and then it’s easy to forget that babies get smarter in ways they can’t show you, too. Two months ago, my daughter would not have been capable of making a decision about where she had her nap, but now she is. Giving her the chance to make the decision on her own would have saved us all a lot of grief if we’d done it in the first place.

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