Staylistening with a Six-Month-Old Twin

I have a friend who has twin girls. Ever since they were born one of the twins (the second to be born) was labeled the more difficult one. She cried more than her twin sister, she ate less, and was not very easy to please. When they were about six months old, I was visiting the family, and when I held each of the girls in my arms, I could clearly see the difference in the way each of them looked at me. The older twin could look straight into my eyes and drink in my gaze, whereas her sister hardly made eye contact with me at all, and kept moving her gaze from one point to the other. I could tell that she was upset and stressed.

When it was time for her to sleep I volunteered to settle her, and she was clearly not going to fall asleep easily. I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to listen to her, and see if it would help to support her as she cried some of her upsets away. I showed her the bed, and she cried when she figured out that a nap was expected. As she cried, I listened and reassured her. 

Her mother soon came to try and sooth her with a bottle, then a pacifier, but she was not hungry and refused these distractions. I held her in my arms, offered gentle eye contact, and  told her, phrase by phrase, “You’re safe now. It’s O.K. I’m going to be here with you. You are a wonderful girl.” I wasn’t doing a lot of talking. Mostly, I held her gently, looked at her warmly and lovingly, and let her do the rest. She cried really hard, perspired, arched her back, and tightened her little muscles as she moved. I made sure that her mom came to the room off and on so her daughter could see that Mommy was still there. She kept crying hard like this for 30 minutes, and then for 10 more minutes she cried hard in spurts. She would calm down, and then cry a little bit more. At the end of those 40 minutes she fell asleep. I had to leave before she woke up.

My friend, the mother of the twins, called me later that evening to tell me in astonishment about the remarkable change she noticed in her younger twin’s behavior. She was very calm, smiled often (which she would rarely do before), and was mostly content. In the next few days, she was exceptionally responsive to everyone around her, including her twin sister, who had been constantly trying, unsuccessfully, to connect with her sister before.

My use of the listening tools started when my girls were 5 and 9, so I didn’t get to offer them Staylistening support when they were babies. I was really excited to see how this tool worked so beautifully with an infant. Although I’ve heard about it before, it was fascinating to notice that she needed someone to listen to her and then, to see the results for myself. 

You can learn more about Parenting by Connection in the Listening to Children booklet set.

6 thoughts on “Staylistening with a Six-Month-Old Twin

  1. I wish you had been there for us or I had known how to do this with our daughter. She screamed for 12 hours straight for 6 weeks. We tried everything and the doctors checked everything, they had never seen anything like it. We actually made a doctor cry and tell me that we were breaking his heart. She is 16 months old now and I attribute her amazing happiness now (and for a long time now) to RIE and what I have learned from Janet and Lisa.

  2. Thank you for this post. I too have twins girls, they are seven month old, five months corrected. The baby that had the more difficult delivery cries more readily and is more difficult to soothe. I’m very interested in trying this approach. My question is how do you rule out hunger as a cause of crying as she never refuses the breast? This obviously stops the crying but she needs to be listened to I would rather meet her needs this way rather than comforting her at the breast, which would seem to be a temporary distraction to her stress if I’ve understood this correctly. Thanks in advance.

  3. Beautiful story. Can you say more about how you negotiated being able to get Mum onboard with this. I would love to offer to my friends child but Mum always takes Baby away when she starts to cry.

  4. We learned about staylistening when my son was almost one. It changed everything for us. I wish I had known about this tool when he was an infant as things were really hard and he was clearly asking for help which I just didn’t know how to give him. Our programing is soooo deep to stop the crying and this tool gives us a new perspective and understanding about how to support our childrens emotional world. NOONE else is talking about this and I am so grateful for HIH. I have had a chance to do staylistening with a number of other children now and when someone new to it sees it, they have a similar response: something really right is going on here…and they want to know more. If we could all learn it- what a gift to new parents everywhere!! Life would be much easier because our children would get a different level of support that they all need, and what shows up after it still is mind blowing. Thank you HIH!!

  5. How lucky that mama is to have a friend like you who is ready and able to jump in and give such loving attention to her child!! The Rescue Squad in action!!
    You may also want to mention our upcoming Teleseminar for parents of more than one child… http://www.handinhandparenting.org/events/337/121/The-Parent-s-Juggling-Act-How-do-I-give-my-all-when-I-have-more-than-one-child

    Emma,
    I think you already answered half your question (it is one that many parents have) and are on the right track. If you think she needs to release emotions and you think she’s eaten enough in the recent past (last hour or so), try NOT offering the breast, hold her and allow her feelings to come. See what you notice about her body as you listen. Does she make better eye contact? Is there tension releasing? Does she seem to melt or soften into you? Here is a link to a great article about listening to infants about nursing http://www.handinhandparenting.org/news/16/64/Listening-to-Nursing-Children

  6. Dear good moms, Thank you for your comments!

    Emma, please take a look at Patty’s article “Listening to Nursing Children” (link below). It has all the information you need to guide you through this very confusing situation where we’re not sure if we are dealing with a hungry baby or a baby who’s just looking for somone to help her release feelings.
    http://www.handinhandparenting.org/news/16/64/Listening-to-Nursing-Children

    As for your question Sarah, my friend in this post knew a little bit about the ‘Listening Tools’, but she was still hesitant and was’t sure if and how it would work. She was thrilled to see the difference it made for her baby (!). You might want to offer your friend some of the reading materials at first (the ‘Crying ‘ booklet or maybe ‘How Childrens Emotions Work’) or maybe just start with giving your friend some Listening time asking her how she feels when her child cries.

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