“We not only respect babies, we demonstrate our respect every time we interact with them. Respecting a child means treating even the youngest infant as a unique human being, not as an object.” – Magda Gerber
There are parents who believe children should earn our respect by respecting us first, but these parents often discover (all too late) that our kids usually only reflect what they’ve been taught. The way we treat our babies is what they know and will eventually reciprocate, so it only makes sense that respect must flow from parent to child from day one.
Raising children with respect takes mental effort and heightened awareness, often requiring us to think before we act. One of the most surprising positive results of our thoughtfulness and restraint is that our job (and, therefore, our lives) becomes much easier. Respect not only works beautifully for our babies, it benefits us, too.
Arsy, a new mom I spoke with about respectful parenting a few months ago, recently sent me an update describing her exciting surprises and discoveries. Since Arsy’s experiences so clearly exemplify the rewards of practicing some of the respectful care basics recommended by Magda Gerber (and her non-profit organization RIE), I thought them worth sharing here:
1. Invite babies to participate actively in their care
“I wanted to give you a quick update on Indyanna, now 6 months old…
Diaper and clothing changes have become one of my favorite times with her. For a while now she has helped and been cooperative during these times. As of the last couple of weeks, she has really started to understand our words. When we ask her to lift her bed, she does. When we ask her to put her legs down so we can snap her diaper closed, she does. When we ask if she could help put her arms through please, she punches them right through. When we tell her we are going to pull her shirt over her head, she closes her eyes in preparation. I know she is only 6 months old, but it’s like she dresses herself!”
2. Encourage self-directed, uninterrupted free play
Generally, she plays in the corner of her room that we have blocked off. I am able to do work at my desk, right near her.”
3. Move your life outdoors as much as possible
“My husband and I love the outdoors and I believe it is a human need.
Yesterday, Indyanna was being fussy. She wasn’t hungry, was rested, had a clean diaper and I had offered her teething toys, but she wasn’t interested. It then occurred to me that we had been indoors all day. I decided to take her outdoors, which I don’t think I would have thought of as something she needed prior to RIE. But when my husband and I are indoors too much, we say we are going stir crazy, so why would she feel any different? Anyway, I set her up to play on her back under the magnolia tree. She was so happy. She played for 1.5 hours. She would have played even longer!
Here she is under the magnolia tree yesterday. Now, does that look like a fussy baby?” (Photo above)
“Like many people, I thought babies’ needs were very different from ours. We are given that message by almost everyone (including experts) as new and expecting parents. We are given that message so much that we forget that infants are human and have all the same needs that we do. Even the amazing lactation nurses that were such a huge help told us that babies liked to be swaddled tight, rocked, ssshhh-ed and jiggled to sleep. All things that would make adults scream, but we are told that babies love and need these things.
A dichotomy exists in our culture between the needs/wants/desires of babies and adults. When you stop to think about it, it is so counterintuitive. I would watch many of the well-intentioned people I know come place a toy right on Indyanna’s stomach when she wasn’t mobile enough to move it easily and walk away. I would think, “Would you like it if someone placed something right on top of you, and you couldn’t really move it?” I would just slide it off of her in an unnoticeable manner, but my husband would directly say to them (just to people close to us), “Would you like it if someone did that to you?”
“The phone consultation we had with you when Indyanna was 2 months old has been so helpful to me. It clarified many things that I had misinterpreted about the RIE philosophy when reading Magda’s books (as a sleep deprived new mom). During that call, you told me to “trust my daughter“. Those words changed everything. They started guiding my day-to-day decisions. I started seeing Indyanna as a competent, whole person. It was like I just knew what to do, as long as I trusted her. Parenting became much easier!”
(Thank you for allowing me to share your note and photo, Arsy!)
For more about Magda Gerber’s RIE approach, please check out her books Dear Parent and Your Self-Confident Baby and my new book: Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting.
Here are some excellent online resources:
Regarding Baby by Lisa Sunbury