Living with Children: A ‘touchy’ 1-year-old is not ‘abnormal’

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QUESTION: Our 11-month-old son has started crying at just about anything he doesn’t understand. In our playgroup, if another child or an adult so much as looks at him the “wrong” way, he melts down. Otherwise, he’s content and keeps himself occupied for fairly long periods of time. I worry that he’s becoming overly dependent on me. My husband is afraid he’s going to be a “crybaby” when he goes to school. I know we’re projecting ahead a few years, but we’re new at this. Is this normal? How should I/we react?

ANSWER: Yes, this is perfectly “normal” in the sense that whereas not all children this age are sensitive to unexpected sounds, looks from other people, and so on, some are and — I want you to pay close attention to the next six words: IT IS OF NO PSYCHOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE!

Your son’s crying is probably a form of the “startle reflex,” which is stronger in some children than others. Several generations ago, before moms began attributing apocalyptic psychological meaning to anything unusual about their kids, the pre-modern parent would have described such a child as “touchy.”

Right now, the problem is exacerbated by the fact that you can’t explain to your little neurotic (that was a joke) the “why?” of these events. When something startles the little crybaby (another joke), all you can do is what you are undoubtedly doing: pick him up and talk gently to him, telling him that everything is all right.

All kidding aside, you’re doing nothing wrong, believe me, but like many a modern mom, you have fallen victim to the notion that any out-of-the-ordinary behavior on the part of a child is the result of some psychological warpage brought on by YOU. Today’s mom seem preternaturally adept at conjuring up guilt.

Are you over-protecting by being at home with him? No. The proof? He plays independently for significant lengths of time, which is one reason he doesn’t need to be in a playgroup. He just needs to be at home with you, playing imaginatively on his own. That was, after all, the normal state of affairs for children up until recently. I’m just sayin’. It may be that he’s a bit overwhelmed by all the stuff his mom feels she has to do to grow him into an adult who has no faults. That was not a joke.

The notion that a child needs a playgroup at 11 months is a symptom of what I term “mother correctness.” You see other mothers doing it en masse; therefore, you think it must be the right thing to do. Furthermore, you think if you don’t do it, the other moms will think something is wrong with you (which, unfortunately, may well be true).

You’re falling into a pattern that’s easier to break now than it will be even one year from now. If you’re going to be a truly liberated mommy who can think outside the box, you need to stop letting pseudo-psychological demons crawl around in your skull.

By the way, tell your husband paranormal geneticists recently determined that the “crybaby gene” is always inherited from the father.

[Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com. Copyright 2022, John K. Rosemond]