This is the first few minutes of snack time (traditionally consisting of bananas and water in real glasses) in one of my parent-infant guidance classes. The children choose whether to come to the table and join the party or not. They quickly learn the routine, and because they love rituals and feel empowered by them, they relish each aspect. Previous to this particular class, we’d done snack with this group 7 times.
Some of the snack time rules (hand-wiping, bib-wearing) are not so strictly enforced. Others are, like sitting while you eat, not climbing on the table, and putting toys aside until snack time is over. As you can sense in the video, toddlers don’t feel hampered by these restrictions if they are given respectfully. Instead, they rise proudly to the occasion, or at least seem to appreciate the opportunity to test limits (depending on their mood that particular day).
Notice the way the first girl climbs on the table, then thinks twice about doing it a second time (probably not such an interesting thing to do when she didn’t have my attention, anyway.)
Infant specialist Magda Gerber taught parents and professionals to treat babies in this respectful manner all the time, and to pay special attention during caregiving activities. Whether the activity is feeding, bathing, dressing or undressing, diapering, nail clipping or nose-wiping, Magda suggested we…
1. Slow down. These activities are just as intriguing and educational for children (if not more so) than play. Babies need time to understand what we expect and respond appropriately, time to soak up our attention and intimacy. What’s the rush?
2. Invite participation and ask for cooperation. Babies are ready to actively participate in all aspects of their life from the very beginning, and that’s the way they like it. Rather than do things “to” babies or “for” them, do things “with” them. Be aware that infants and toddlers are developing at lightning speed and are each day capable of participating more actively, doing new things all by themselves.
3. Communicate. Talk babies through all the details, listen and respond to all their attempts to communicate. This is not only respectful, it is the best and most natural way for babies to learn language.
4. Pay full attention. Children need our nurturing presence during caregiving activities. These intervals of focused attention and connection each day refuel infants and toddlers, and make it possible for them to enjoy time away from us, playing independently.
Please share your impressions or questions…
I share more about respectful caregiving routines in Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting
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