Dealing with the stresses that come with a newborn

October 12, 2010

There are times when you can't figure out what's wrong with your little one and you're out of options (after you've gone from the bouncy seat, to the exersaucer, to the jumping chair, to just holding your baby and walking the floor.) You and your partner are likely already sleep deprived and a lot lighter in the wallet. How do you keep your adult relationship alive and get the baby to smile and laugh again?

Truly, it's hard.

There's just no way around it. And most couples report a 90-percent drop in marital satisfaction after their little one arrives. It's that hard to handle all your baby's needs, your spouse's needs and hopefully your own needs. But trying to figure out the adult relationship and keep it stable is key to your baby's good health and high I.Q. according to John Medina, author of BRAIN RULES FOR BABY.

My twins are 6 months old, not sleeping through the night and they're both teething right now. I don't have a live-in nanny so I do all the overnights myself. And when they both start to wail because their gums are throbbing, it's tough not to pull your hair out. My 10-year-old is really sweet and offers to help. Sometimes I let him take one, while I take the other and we pace the floor. I give Hunter and Zeke baby acetaminophen. We try Orajel. We try freezing the pacifiers to numb the gums. This weekend, not much seemed to work. But eventually both baby boys napped and woke up cooing and giggling like nothing had happened. Jake and I were tired after all the hard work.

Add an adult relationship to the mix and you have the good and the bad (hopefully a spouse or partner to help you) but also another adult who may disagree with your approach. Medina says staying on the same page and showing empathy for your child-rearing partner is crucial to your baby's I.Q. Literally, the baby's brain won't grow as large and strong as it would have if the child feels constant tension, fear or threats.

Conversely, couple who have solid relationships can weather the storms of raising baby and therefore have "the highest probability for raising smart, happy, morally aware kids," Medina says.

And the strongest adults bonds have empathy, where they hear the other out and see what they're going through, as their basis for communication. It also helps to have a strong adult relationship before your child's birth.

Research shows that 70-percent of marital conflicts are NOT resolvable…even if both sides state their positions, neither side appears ready to budge. And surveys show there's usually only wiggle room for negotiating 30-percent of the time. That's where empathy is key and a lack of empathy is a powerful predictor of divorce.

The same is true with your children. They may disobey you; they may not agree on a given subject with you. But if you both calmly hear each other out (with a sympathetic ear) odds are you'll find a fairer solution and your kids will feel that you "get" their point-of-view. The same holds true with babies. Approaching them gently, with a soft tone of voice when they're crying, trying not one or two ways to calm them down, but 9 or 10 ways, and then showering them with love when the rough patch is past, is key to brain growth and development.

Behaviorist John Gottman says "empathy not only matters…it is the foundation of effective parenting."

To help you learn to be more empathetic, Gottman suggests a simple 2-step approach. When you see someone you love "freaking out":

    1. Describe the emotional meltdown you see,
    2. Try to gently guess where it's coming from.
For example, I say to Hunter or Zeke when I hear them suddenly scream in agony, "I see how upset you are. What just happened? Are you teething today? Those little gums are hurting you aren't they?" We try A to Z of my tried and true solutions, and when none of them works, I put my finger to their lips and let them chew on it, which seems to stop the pain for a few seconds. (They chew on their own fists and blankets too, trying to stop the pain.)

My 10-year-old hears me talking the twins through the "crisis" so he learns negotiating, empathy skills too. And it reminds him that I'll be just as gentle and reasonable with him next time he has a big problem. So everybody benefits.

Try making empathy the cornerstone of your family relationships…and it will help your young child's I.Q. grow.

Next week, we'll talk about the seeds to help your baby's brain grow even more.

Take care!

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