When a baby falls down or gets hurt, even if it is obviously a minor injury, our instincts might tell us to rush over, pick her up immediately and shower her with sympathy or distraction in an attempt to calm her as quickly as possible. Infant expert Magda Gerber advised something a little different and counterintuitive (especially for those who find a baby’s cries difficult to hear…namely, all of us!). She encouraged parents and caregivers to remain calm so as not to add our alarm or distress to the equation, and to take our cues from the child. She also suggested that we take the time to reflect on the experience to help the baby understand it, acknowledge her feelings and support her to express them freely and completely.
I couldn’t have dreamed of a better example than the one in this video — provided by a dad and his baby daughter in a recent RIE Parent/Infant Class. As sorry as I was that this incident happened on my watch (!), the silver lining is the unique opportunity to show you a parent’s extraordinarily sensitive, patient and mindful response…
Notice the care this dad takes to:
He remains calm and stays in responsive mode, asking what his daughter needs, giving her the chance to handle the situation as best she can, in her own way, rather than rescuing her. Alternatively, the “Poor baby, let me kiss it and make it all better” approach sets the stage for a victim mentality, according to Magda Gerber in Your Self-Confident Baby. “Not only do you rob a child of comforting herself, you also provide a magical solution of which she is not a part.”
When we reflect rather than rescue, the child often recovers quickly and returns to playing. This baby might have done so if she wasn’t also hungry (a discovery her dad made a few minutes after the video).
Obviously, if we sense a child is seriously injured or in danger we should rush in, and we probably won’t be able to temper our distress.
This father not only asks “Did you get hit…right here?” and points out the “hard” bottle, he even explains the situation to another baby who shows interest/concern. “She got hit. She didn’t like it”. Reflecting helps a baby grasp the situation and learn from it rather than it being (for an infant) yet another of life’s mysteries. She is also assured that she’s worthy of being informed about all that happens in her immediate world.
Accept and Acknowledge
When a child cries, parents have the tendency to comfort with words like, “You’re okay. You’re fine. Don’t cry. It was just a bump.” But those “reassurances” actually negate a child’s feelings and send a confusing message because the child doesn’t feel okay.
Note this father’s patience and acceptance. He allows his daughter’s feelings to run their course, never trying to alter them. The sense of acceptance these parent/child interactions provide for a baby, and the profound feeling of being understood, are great gifts…and the basis for an enduring and unshakable sense of security.
Please share your impressions!
(I share more about this mindful approach in my podcasts and book, Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting.)