Why is my baby rejecting me?

Smart love - July 2006


The Piepers

Q: I am the hardworking father of a 7-month-old girl. My job takes me on the road Monday through Friday. I don’t have much energy left for playing with the baby, but I get a lot of satisfaction from being a good provider for my family.

The last two weekends, I have gone in to get my daughter up from her nap and she has looked at me and burst into tears. She has remained inconsolable until my wife picks her up. My feelings are hurt and I wonder why I am working so hard and traveling so much when my daughter clearly seems not to like having me around. Should I just insist that she accept me and not let my wife step in? Please advise.

R.W., Northbrook

A: Your baby has reached a normal, time-limited developmental stage called stranger anxiety. She has matured to the point that she can distinguish the person she gets the most comfort from—her mother—from everyone else. She doesn’t see you every day, so for the moment, you are not the person who feels most familiar and most comforting.

This is a normal and time-limited reaction that has no implications for your future relationship with your daughter. Very soon, her development will continue to the point that she will include you in her "favorites" category. And when she reaches the romantic phase, which occurs sometime around age 3, she will go through a normal phase of preferring you, and on occasion, rejecting her mother.

In order not to interfere with the normal unfolding of your daughter’s development, it is important that you understand this developmental stage and realize your daughter is not rejecting you when she cries; she is simply expressing a normal preference for the person who spends the most time with her.

If you can be sensitive to this developmental vulnerability, you will find that your relationship will be smoother. For example, if you want to get her up from her nap, go in with her mother and let her see her mother’s face as you pick her up. With that security in place, she will probably be very comfortable playing with you.

What’s the secret to putting a baby to bed without crying?

Q: Could you please explain the steps of putting a 3-month-old baby to sleep without just letting the baby cry? We like your approach, but we are having a problem implementing it. Our son tends to fall asleep after he has his bottle and when we put him down, he wakes up and wants to be held or rocked. How do you get babies to put themselves to sleep without letting them cry or having to hold and rock them forever?

W.T., Chicago

A:Your goal is to put your son in his crib awake and with enough interesting toys to keep him engaged until he falls asleep. If he falls asleep before you can put him in the crib, but then wakes up, try to comfort him in the crib. He will be more willing to stay in the crib if there are new and different things to look at in his crib. In the beginning, he may become tired and want some comforting after playing. Try to rub his back or soothe him without picking him up. If he becomes upset, lift him up and rock and comfort him and then try to put him down again and comfort him in the crib. Over time, you will find that more frequently he will play for a while and then fall asleep.

Does it help or hurt my teen when I bail him out?

Q:My teenager is basically a good student, but he is also somewhat disorganized and forgetful. On a number of occasions, he has left his homework at home.

He always wants me to write a note to his teacher saying that he did the work but left it at home, which is true. Apparently, he still gets marked off a little because the work is late, but not as much as if I didn’t write the note saying that he did the homework. Friends say I am enabling his disorganization by writing these notes and that I should tell him I will no longer bail him out when he forgets his assignments. What do you think?

T.J., Wilmette

A:You are not "enabling" your son’s behavior, because it is normal—all adolescents are disorganized and forgetful at times.

Keep in mind that even though your son may have the body of a man, he still needs your help. For example, ask him before he heads off for school if he has done his homework and even check his room. If he does forget his homework, do help him out by writing a note. You are his model for relating to himself and others, and it is much better to model compassion and helpfulness than punitiveness and negativity.

Letting him suffer when you could be a part of the solution doesn’t teach him anything valuable. In fact, it gives him the message that he doesn’t deserve help when he errs.

Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., and William J. Pieper, M.D., are co-authors of Smart Love: The Compassionate Approach to Discipline that Makes You a Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person and Free Yourself from Moods and Behaviors that Undermine Relationships, Work and the Life You Want (for additional Smart Love resources visit www.smartloveparent.org).

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