Emma was born so early that she identified as a “Micro-Preemie.” That is, she weighed less than 800 grams and was born before 26 weeks.
When I first met her, she was about 9 months old and weighed 15lbs, and she had a lot of fears about being picked up. Her history had included a lot of being jabbed with needles and having to be confined while procedures were performed or medication was administered.
Her cries of protest the first few times I tried to change her diaper were so loud, and she struggled so vigorously that I almost felt that I would not be able to change her. She was an incredibly strong little person, both emotionally and physically!
But that day, despite her reaction, I said gently, “I am going to change you.”
To a baby, this is the equivalent of setting a limit.
I took a breath and released the tension that I could feel in my own shoulders as she cried. Now I felt ready to listen to her strong feelings.
I made eye contact with her at the changing table but I didn’t “Shhh” her or say, “You are OK,” or hug her tightly, although it was tempting to do all of those things – this little one is so precious and touches my heart.
Instead, I held her gaze and listened.
I kept my face calm and I nodded a few times as the minutes passed. I said, “I am sorry that it was so hard for you.”
Sometimes I also added, “I am here for you.”
And that was the start of many listening times I shared with baby Emma.
Each day when I picked her up or did anything to her body, or I would try to change her, she would begin to release some of her fears and discomfort. Yet, she would always begin to relax after our eyes made good contact and I noticed that she went to sleep very easily with my help after these sessions.
Listening to this “Micro-Preemie” was a powerful experience for me, and reinforced for me again that Staylistening is possible with even very little ones. I truly believe that listening to babies is one of the most important things we can do as parents and teachers, although because it takes time, it can be a challenge to make happen.
Another thing that always surprises me is how easily young children recognize the intention of a calm listener and take advantage of it. I learned that Emma could recognize me as a listener very quickly, even then.
Now, at almost two years old, she is doing so well at school, and she still visibly relaxes when I am able to sit with her and listen.
From the Hand in Hand Toolbox:
Find out why babies need to cry in Let’s Talk About Crying
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Laura Minnigerode is a certified Hand in Hand Instructor living in Austin, Texas with her partner, 3 children and 3 dogs. You can contact Laura at Listening for Good