Is your child being needy particularly needy lately? “I can’t do it! YOU put my coat on.”
Maybe you have a new baby and your older child is out of sorts? “I’m the baby! Carry ME!”
(Or both!? “I’m the baby. You need to feed me!”)
Here’s a quick and easy parenting tip that will help: Baby your big kid!
If your child is asking for A LOT of help, some preventative babying might help. If you have a new baby, or your child has a lot of sibling resentment, babying them will help. If you want to feel closer to your child, babying will increase your connection.
How to baby your big kid:
1. Pretend they’re a baby!
After a bath, wrap them up in a towel and rock them on your lap. Call them “Baby Your Child’s Name.” Sing a lullaby. Coo at them. Most kids, even big ones (maybe especially big ones!) will melt in your arms.
If your child is resistant, you can reminisce about when they were a baby. “When you were a baby, I used to hold you like this, and I used to gaze into your big brown eyes like this.” See if you can break down that resistance with love.
If you have a new baby or your child has a lot of resentment toward their younger sibling, they may be feeling ‘replaced.’ Let them know that they will ALWAYS be your baby and you could never love anyone more than you love them. Delight in your big ‘baby’ and your child will feel so cherished.
2. Do things for them that they can do for themselves.
When children are frequently asking you to do something for them that you know they can do themselves, it could be that they need some extra nurturing. Caretaking is an important way to not only show love but to feel loved. We feel deeply connected to those who care for us.
Know that the development of independence can’t be forced by making kids do everything for themselves. Rather, they feel confident and capable when they are able to move away from us when they are ready- not when we decide they must.
You can choose to help your child with whatever they are requesting as your ‘gift’ to them: “Of course I’ll help you with your shoes, darling. I know you can do it yourself. But we all need a little extra help sometimes, don’t we?”
Have you heard that you should never do anything for your child that they can do for themselves? I 100% disagree. That is not the foundation for a relationship. What if I told you that you should never do anything for your partner that they can do for themselves? Or vice versa.
I make coffee for my husband in the morning even though he is perfectly capable. I make lunches for my teenagers (as long as they eat them!) These small things are some ways I show love for people in my family.
We can nurture our children by doing things for them without worrying about their independence. My teenagers make their lunch just fine when I can’t, and my husband can certainly make his own coffee. Nurturing doesn’t destroy independence.
In fact, Gordon Neufeld, a developmental psychologist says if we want our kids to be independent, we need to first ‘invite dependence’ –
“The more we push independence in our kids, the more they cling, give up, or look to someone else for help. If we want to deepen attachment and cultivate independence, we first need to invite our children to depend on us.”
Our children have a very strong natural drive for independence. That’s why often an early toddler sentence is “Me do it!” We can nurture our children in small ways and “gift” them the extra help (love) they are craving without getting in the way of their growing independence.
Go ahead and baby your big kid! Watch their independence grow while you make them feel cherished and grow your connection with them.
Try it and leave a comment below or let us know how it goes in the Facebook group.
Sarah Rosensweet is a peaceful parenting coach and educator. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three big kids (ages 11, 14, and 18). Sarah teaches parents a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Find her at sarahrosensweet.com