“You know what I have found- NOTHING works all the time. I hear people saying that peaceful parenting doesn’t work and I hear people saying that spanking doesn’t work. Frankly, I can’t think of anything that is 100% fool proof and works for every child all the time.”
– Mama Birth
I hear (or read) statements like Mama Birth’s all the time. It doesn’t matter what school of child care thought or the specifics of the discussion, someone always concludes “there isn’t a method that can work for every child because each baby is unique.” And that usually ends the discussion.
Although I couldn’t agree more about each child being unique, I disagree about there not being a universal, one-size-fits-all child care approach — because I know one. It’s summed up perfectly by RIE Associate Elizabeth Memel when she welcomes new parents to her Parent/Infant Guidance Classes: “I’m not your teacher — your child is your teacher.” (Wish I’d said that.)
Our unique babies are the only people on the planet who can teach us all we need to know about raising them. So one-size-fits-all parenting is about learning how to become better students. Here’s infant expert Magda Gerber‘s foolproof way to do that…
We need a basic trust in our babies as capable communicators and initiators — fully human and active participants in life. The expression “seeing is believing” has to be reversed. Young children, especially the most immobile, pre-verbal ones can’t show and tell us unless we believe they can and give them room.
Sensitive observation, focused attention, really taking the child in without interference is the key to understanding babies and responding appropriately. Through observation we can detect everything from the early stages of tiredness (and be able to prepare children for sleep ahead of the curve) to what they might be learning while they play, when not to interrupt. Magda Gerber’s story illustrates…
“Once many years ago, I saw an infant lying on the floor who was trying to catch something in a very dreamy, beautiful way. I didn’t see anything, but I knew that the child saw something. Only as I walked around did I realize that the dust in the air was creating a rainbow, and that’s what the child saw. That experience stayed with me as a symbolic reminder, so that now when people do things, I want to say, “That child may just see the rainbow — don’t interrupt. Wait.”
This story is also about trust, trusting that our baby’s choice of activity has value and is “enough”.
If I had it to do over, I’d definitely try the Dunstan method for decoding baby language…it fascinates me! I know, I know, someone’s bound to tell me it doesn’t work for every baby. But listening does. True listening means finding the strength to hear babies when they cry, since that’s the way they communicate a variety of needs and feelings. It means making the effort to understand before responding, especially when those responses mean placing something in the baby’s mouth, because that discourages further communication.
Lu Hanessian (from Parent2ParentU) provided a vivid illustration recently when she suggested substituting the word ‘communicate’ for ‘cry’. And yet, there are experts who will tell you not to let your baby ‘communicate’.
When our goal is to prevent babies from crying, we end up assuming needs, doing well-intentioned but misdirected things like feeding them when they’re tired or playing with them when they’re over-stimulated. Observe and listen. Really listen. Your baby is listening to you, and she deserves the same respect.
Keeping the lines of communication open becomes even more vital as our children grow. These lines are delicate. They can easily become blocked and even “downed” when we routinely ignore or respond judgmentally to our baby’s cries; lose patience with our toddler’s tendency toward overreaction; or say just about anything to our teenagers (!).
This lesson was brought home recently when my husband and I went through a rough patch with one of our children. We were alarmed and confused as to how to handle it, seriously doubted ourselves. Once again, the answer turned out to be listening and trusting our daughter to know herself. (Thank you, Magda, for guidance that keeps on giving!)
4. Talk, long before they do
Encourage communication by talking to children respectfully. Tell infants and toddlers before you pick them up (better yet, ask first). Show children through your actions and words that you want them to communicate with you. Let them know you understand what they’ve communicated and they’ll keep letting you in.
5. Slow down
Tuning in to young children is impossible without slowing down to their speed.
6. Get outside!
Moving your life outdoors as much as possible has nothing specific to do with learning about babies, but communing with nature is a one-size-fits-all, foolproof ticket to enjoying life and parenting.
Here’s inspiration… Observe this 6 month old baby’s discovery. Listen to his joy. Trust that his inner-directed activity is not only enough, it’s just perfect. (This is a 30 second snippet from a long, uninterrupted play period.)
And that reminds me of another thing…
7. Revere play
Thanks so much to Kerry and Kobe for this enchanting video!
(Photo by Nina Matthews Photography on Flickr)