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.