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Published on November 20, 2020

13 Practical Pieces of Advice for New Parents

13 Practical Pieces of Advice for New Parents

I have given birth to four babies (in the span of five years, all full term babies too). I have been a foster parent to several babies as well. Our first born only lived 8 weeks. He was diagnosed with a fatal genetic disorder several weeks after birth. Our second baby was actually a foster baby we had for 15 months. She was placed with us when she was seven weeks old. When she was eight months old, I gave birth to a baby girl. It was like having twins.

    And then we actually had twins. I learned quickly that twins are hard. Really hard. But they are fun too. Our twins are no longer babies. They are six years old. I do remember that first year clearly, even though much of it felt like a sleep deprived hazy existence.

    The first six months with my twins was sheer survival mode. They would both sleep for two hours and then wake for feeding. I would bottle feed them, while pumping milk (they were not good at nursing). After I fed them in the wee morning hours and middle of the night, I then changed them, swaddled both, and placed them in their bassinets close to my bed. Then it would start all over again. They would sleep for two hours and then wake to be fed once again. This routine went on for six months.

    Sleeping in two hour increments is not easy. I learned to go to bed at 8:00 pm, so that the two hour increments would add up to enough sleep to function by 7:00 am when our two year old daughter would wake and be ready to start the day.

    It was not easy to have three little ones at the same time, especially with twins who had reflux and colic to top things off. The non-stop crying every evening for hours is something I don’t wish on any parent. It is possible to survive this, in fact, I have friends who have quadruplets. They survived too.

    Our twin boys as newborns was a completely opposite experience than we had with both our foster daughter and our biological daughter when they were babies. The girls were easy babies. They required no “sleep training”, as both were sleeping through the night by three or four months of age on their own. They were happy, easily contented babies. I could take them to lunch with my girlfriends and they cooed happily and entertained nearby strangers with their smiles and baby talk. When I was caring for both baby girls, it made me wonder why so many mothers complained about lack of sleep, fussy babies, and the hardships involved in caring for a newborn. Having very difficult twin baby boys showed me that not all babies are alike.

    What I learned from all these babies I have cared for is that each baby is different. There is no one set formula that works for all babies. Each situation is unique, because every baby is unique. You can have an easy-going baby and it may make you think that all babies are that easy. They are not.

    If you are like most of us who have been blessed to become parents, you will experience ups and downs on a daily basis when you bring a newborn into your home. It will not be sheer bliss to have a baby. They are a great deal of work and take tremendous energy out of moms and dads. However, they can provide you with an overflowing heart filled with love and joy you didn’t know was possible.

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    Even though not all babies are alike, I can provide some tips to help you navigate the world of parenthood. Below are 13 practical tips I have for all new parents.

    1. Recognize That the First Year Is Usually Challenging

    I have heard people say that when they have kids it won’t change their life. They will simply take the baby along with them wherever they go. It’s a nice thought, but it doesn’t work out that way in reality.

    If you want to attend a concert, a newborn baby will likely not be able to be brought along. They will cry and interrupt others at the concert. Babies can’t go everywhere we go and do everything we are doing. They cry a great deal during that first year. They also require feeding every few hours. It puts a crimp in any lifestyle.

    The first year is challenging because having a baby will turn anyone’s world upside down. If you are the primary caregiver for a newborn, your life and schedule are no longer your own. You have a tiny human counting on you for feedings, changings, comforting, holding, rocking, swinging, being sung to, and whatever else it is that your baby will need from you.

    We like to think that our own baby will be an easy baby, especially if that is our own personality. The reality is that most babies are high maintenance. They require round the clock care and that it itself makes that first year challenging.

    2. Sleep When Baby Sleeps

    Because babies are so much work while they are awake, take the opportunity to sleep when they sleep. You can’t take a nap while they are awake. Therefore, don’t miss the opportunity to catch up on sleep while they are sleeping.

    It can be tempting to stay up late to binge watch your favorite show. However, the reality of struggling to care for a baby during the day when you are sleep deprived because you stayed up late and then they woke you up four times in six hours will make your day quite miserable. Avoid the misery and try to get enough sleep.

    Often, the only way this is feasible is to sleep when your baby is sleeping. It is exactly why I started going to bed at 8pm when my twins would go to bed. I knew that I would be woken up every two to three hours, so going to bed early was the only way I was able to get enough hours of sleep.

    3. Allow for Normal Household Noise

    My brother and his wife came to visit us a few years ago. Actually it was a 10-day extended stay because they had a hurricane in their area. They had a newborn baby who was two months old. I also had three small kids who were very loud and energetic all day long. We tried to keep the kids quiet so the baby could nap. Like most babies, their son was napping once in the morning and again in the afternoon.

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    At first their son would wake up with every tiny noise we made in the home. There was only so much that I could do. I wasn’t go to vacate our house for the majority of the day, just so their newborn could sleep. I knew one thing about babies that my brother and sister-in-law hadn’t learned yet. They learned this after a few days in our noisy home. I told them that if they didn’t rush to get him every time he wakes because of a small noise he will learn to sleep through the noise. By the end of the week, he was napping just fine through our chaos filled noisy household activities.

    I have done the same with my own children. We allow for normal household noise, including talking, cooking, and everyday activities to commence. The baby is often asleep in a nearby bedroom, but they certainly aren’t cut off from the noise.

    When you whisper while baby sleeps and insist on silence in your home for your sleeping baby, then your baby becomes a sleeper who is easily woken by any sound. If you condition your baby to sleep through normal household noises they will learn to be good sleepers in spite of the noise.

    4. Don’t Get Hung Up on Advice From Others

    New parents get a lot of unsolicited advice, especially from family and friends. Keep in mind that they are giving advice because they love you and they are trying to help. However, you don’t have to follow the advice of others just because they offer it. You do what is best for your own baby.

    Just because your sister tells you that you must use organic cloth diapers because it worked well for her children doesn’t mean that you have to take the advice. You can say “thank you” and then do whatever is best for your own family.

    5. Accept Help When Offered

    Babies and small children are a lot of work. I hope that if you can learn anything from me it is that no baby is really “easy”. They all require lots of time, energy, effort, and love.

    When you have trusted people in your life offer to help, then accept their help. My mother-in-law flew in to help us after the twins were born. She was going to stay a week. She offered to stay longer and ended up extending her stay twice, for a total of three weeks.

    If she would have offered to stay longer, I would have accepted the help. It was a blessing to have her there to help us, as we were in survival mode those first few months.

    6. Breastfeed or Formula: Do What Works Best for Your Situation

    The benefits of breastmilk have been proven by science to be better than formula. However, how much better? And at what cost? There are too many women who beat themselves up emotionally because they are unable to breastfeed for one reason or another.

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    If your baby is being fed, you are doing a good job. Our foster daughter only had formula as an infant. Many children only have formula because it is the only option available. Our foster daughter is now a healthy and smart girl. Formula did not negatively affect her development. What was most important was that she was fed. This is true of all babies.

    So do what is best for your own situation. If you end up giving your baby formula, remind yourself that millions, if not billions, of babies have grown up on formula and end up being healthy, intelligent, well adjusted people.

    7. Don’t Compare Your Baby to Other Babies

    All babies are different. It is not good or bad. Some babies have colic. It doesn’t mean that they will have issues later. My twins both had reflux and colic and they are healthy and happy six year old’s now.

    Babies all develop at different rates. You can have one baby who walks at nine months and another that doesn’t until 14 months and they are both healthy and happy.

    Don’t compare your baby to other babies. The range of “normal” for development is quite wide. If you legitimately have a concern about their development then ask your pediatrician.

    8. Take a Shower, It Will Make You Feel Better

    We often don’t take care of ourselves as new moms or dads. Many parents spend their life caring for their children to the extent that their own self care goes by the wayside.

    As a new parent, one way to care for yourself is by showering daily. It will help you feel refreshed. Even if it is a five minute quick shower it will help you feel better.

    9. Get Out of the House and Meet Fellow Moms/Dads

    Don’t think you have to parent alone! There are so many parent groups to join. As a new mom, I joined MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and developed some wonderful mom friendships that have lasted for years.

    Look for local mom groups in your particular area. Connection is something that is helpful to all of us; especially connections with others who are going through the same phase of life and have similar experiences.

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    10. Get Outside and Walk

    If you are the one who gave birth, then getting up and becoming active can be hard at first. Birth is really hard on our bodies. A simple way to get active that will help with your mood as well is to get outside and go on walks.

    Put the baby in the stroller and get yourself walking outside, even if it is just around the block to get started. You will find that the fresh air and blood pumping through your body will help brighten your mood and spirit.

    11. Find the Humor in Your New Life

    Don’t take your life too seriously. Be willing to laugh at the humorous things when they happen. For example, the blow out diaper that happens immediately after you have bathed and dressed your baby. Your little one is happily cooing and smiling at you when it happens, while you are literally covered in….poop.

    These things are bound to happen. Be willing to laugh and find the humor in life.

    12. Take Photos Because Time Flies

    The days may seem long but the years are short. Time goes by quicker than you will realize.

    Take photos and videos, even when nothing special is happening, because they grow up fast. You will blink and they are no longer babies, blink again and they are no longer toddlers.

    Capture life as it is happening, because tomorrow they are another day older and you can’t get that day back.

    13. Bond with Your Baby and Enjoy the Present

    Enjoy life with your baby and cherish the small moments as they happen. Take the time to breathe in the baby smell that comes from the top of their head, gaze at them as they sleep peacefully in your arms, and soak up the baby giggles. These are the precious moments and memories that will keep you fueled through the many days and nights that will be a struggle.

    They are only babies once, so be sure to take mental snapshots of those precious moments that you want to capture for a lifetime.

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    Featured photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon via unsplash.com

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    Dr. Magdalena Battles

    A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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    Published on November 12, 2020

    How to Identify And Play to Your Child’s Strengths

    How to Identify And Play to Your Child’s Strengths

    As you sit there, perhaps on a sofa, maybe a lounge chair, or while you’re sharing a meal at the table, you glance over to the pride and joy you are happy each day to call your child. They smile back, running around the table they learned to stand up using or kiss you on the cheek as they snatch your car keys for their first (or second, but what feels like hopefully the last) errand using your car. You watch as they take their plate from the table, ask if anyone needs anything on their way to the sink, and then finally meander towards the living room saying to you, “Bed fort after dinner?”

    How respectful! How creative! Such initiative!

    What you may not realize is that because we don’t often think about this in the day-to-day of parenting, your child’s strengths—the initiative, creativity, drive, passion, and introspective nature that turns other people off—are cultivated daily!

    If you’ve never given thoughts to your child’s inherent strengths, that’s okay. As is all too common, you’re conditioned to only look at what they need to fix.[1]

    Turns out, identifying, cultivating, and managing your child’s strengths isn’t very difficult. In fact, much of those three steps can occur during a visit to the park. Let’s discover simple and effective ways to highlight your child’s strengths.

    Identifying Strengths

    Now, I know what you may be thinking: between office meetings, Zoom sessions, laundry, and grocery shopping, when exactly do I have time to become a psychologist?

    I get it. But really, identifying your child’s strengths is not difficult. In fact, a simple exercise usually suffices—participate in their play!

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    Participate in Their Play

    Play can take many forms and is usually defined as an activity that does not bring extrinsic value to be enjoyed—us adults typically refer to these activities as “hobbies.” Whether your child is two or thirteen, children are children, after all, and play is essential.

    According to a report from the University of Utah, play is a way for children to practice “problem-solving, self-control, and learning how to share.”[2] Aren’t those powerful strengths that we should identify and cultivate in our supportive role of helping children thrive as adults?

    When children engage in play, they naturally show how they lead, how they empathize with others, and how they work with others (or not) to solve problems. If you spend time being present with your children during play, you will be able to see how your child’s strengths manifest in the simplest of activities. Seeing your children play allows you to see how they make mistakes, too, which is a powerful indicator of their sense of self.

    Allow (Supported) Mistakes—and Often!

    Identifying your child’s strengths has nothing to do with demanding them to be perfect. Far from it, actually. Remember—you are guiding them to becoming a self-sufficient and nurturing adult, and there aren’t many of us out there that are perfect!

    Highlighting moments when your child has made some mistakes and working through how to bounce back or fix that mistake can be wondrous when they are working towards understanding their effect on others, themselves, and the world.

    Just like parents that tend to focus too much on the negative, children too often learn more from their mistakes than their successes. Catch your child softly during a mistake, and work through a plan to get themselves out of it. Your goal is not to fix their issue, of course, but to build within them the capacity to make a better choice next time.

    When you take on this mindset of an engaging and present parent that is looking for ways to build your child’s strengths, you’ll be surprised at what you see them able to do.

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    Some solid examples of inherent child strengths to look for include:

    These are the soft skills that are being developed as young as preschool and even before. In today’s global workplace environment, ensuring that your child is developing in these (and other) areas will set them up for success.

    Okay, great. You’ve watched your children at the park or tag along with your teenager to a volunteer event and notice how gracious they are. How do we keep that going?

    As is normally the case, you’ll see that cultivating strengths is no more difficult than identifying them.

    Cultivating Your Child’s Identified Strengths

    Imagine this scenario: Thursday evening, and you’ve worked your fourth ten-hour day. Your partner is late getting home from work, and your three kids are all wanting different things for dinner that should have been made yesterday.

    At the exact moment you’re about to snap from the pressure, your middle child says, “Hey, maybe we can all act like chefs tonight and make our own dinners? Might be fun!”

    Um, yes, please?

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    As you settle in bed later that evening and reflect on that exchange in the kitchen, you start to highlight other times that child—and, as you doze, your other children in their own ways—stepping up and leading. You know this cannot be by accident, so what’s going on here?

    Provide Many At-Bats

    Just because a child can take their plate to the sink doesn’t mean they are responsible enough with Grandma’s China set. But when you provide the “at-bats” for children to build capacity using their strengths, you see the road to them handling more difficult scenarios becoming less and less cluttered with obstacles.

    There will come a day, and perhaps soon, that your child will be able to navigate that China with extreme grace. Today just ain’t that day, but with some work, it’ll come!

    Providing opportunities for your child to build on their strengths is a great idea. Everyone likes to feel competent, and your child is no different! Setting up scaffolded opportunities for them to showcase their budding personalities decreases the stress and increases the chance that, next time, they will perform even better.

    Teach Them to Trust but Verify

    Good leaders don’t have all the answers. Neither should you and of course, we don’t expect our children to know everything. But we should build within them the capacity for understanding what they don’t know and figuring out ways to get the information they need to work through their situations.

    You cannot always have the answers, either. So, what should you do?

    Exposing them to the world of information that exists is a good start. Great, you’ve identified your child is empathetic, but must they assist and provide supportive care to everyone they encounter? Or should there be some healthy boundaries established?

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    Working with your children to mold and curate these more nuanced approaches to their strengths will provide them with a good road map to use when they ultimately leave you and lead their own lives.

    Turning Weaknesses Into Opportunities

    While not exactly the elephant in the room, I can’t possibly write an article about child strengths without also addressing the fact that our children aren’t possibly capable of being good at everything.

    Perhaps one of your most important roles as a parent is to decide what strengths your child has and to inspire them to cultivate those strengths using the tips and suggestions in this article. However, there will be a wide variety of opportunities for you to work through the challenges your child experiences.

    I don’t want this to sound too harsh but the fact is, everyone has competencies on a spectrum: you can work, hustle, and grind to develop parts of your personality or skill set to whatever gain you set for yourself. Allowing children to operate with a mindset of progress, not perfection, will help their journey. You cannot be weak, after all, if you are constantly striving for improvement.

    So, the next time you take your kiddo out to the park, attend a professional sporting event, or perhaps when you’re playing cards in the living room on a cold winter night, pay attention to how they maneuver around.

    How are they asking for what they need? How are they offering support? How are they handling conflict? How are they bouncing back from missed opportunities or mess-ups?

    In each of those moments—and many more—the opportunity to cultivate strength in your child is just around the corner!

    More Tips on Developing Your Child’s Strengths

    Featured photo credit: Nathan Dumlao via unsplash.com

    Reference

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