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.)
This couldn’t have come at a better time for our family. With our little daughter just 9 days old and our 2yr old son having some difficulty adjusting to the new family dynamics, this beautiful video has reaffirmed our beliefs.
The importance of respecting each child as a person and an individual with feelings and emotions.
The importance of allowing children to speak and have their feelings heard.
The importance of respecting and acknowledging that our son may be confused and he might not understand why. That he is not acting out or misbehaving and that we need to be patient and give him time to adjust.
Thanks for this lovely reminder
Thank you for adding your wonderful beliefs, all of which I certainly share. I can imagine your son is have some difficulty. Think how strange it would be if he didn’t? Only a robot could glide through such an intense change in one’s life. Sounds like he’s in perfect hands. Congratulations on your new edition to the family!!!
Love this, what a wonderful example. The father does all these things with such ease and yet, in the moment…doing those can be HARD!
Love how you outline it here, what is important to display when our children are hurt or upset.
Thank you Janet, wonderful as always.
Thank you, Melissa! Yes, it is hard to be so patient, especially when you aren’t used to it, but it does come much more naturally with practice. After I complemented this dad he mentioned, “It’s so much easier the second time around.” (He had attended RIE classes with his now 4 year old son, too.)
Oh this is good. I’ve been picking my daughter (8 months tomorrow) up and kissing the bumped spot and rocking her. She does cry as if she’s in a lot of pain though (from the shock I guess rather than pain). I don’t think I do the ‘negating feelings’ bit but will observe next time and try to be conscious about it. Have read this piece to my husband who only grunted. Hope he listened. :s
Thanks for sharing this.
Thanks, Nev! I’ve noticed that sometimes when we do less and instead, ask, listen, stay in responsive mode, a child cries less about the incident… which isn’t neceassarily the goal, but just interesting to me. I’ve noticed, for example, that if we assume, “that scared you” rather than asking “did that startle you?” the child has a more intense reaction. Maybe it’s because babies are so sensitive to our feelings and the energy we emit…
The grunt sounds promising!
It did. I think it takes him longer to get round to ‘all those hippy things’ but when we first got pregnant he was more on the Mainstream line…now his ‘with me’ 😉
She fell off the bed recently and I expected her to cry and scream..but although she did cry, it was more of a quiet one. (She cries more when we put her in water :-S )
Now that you’ve said it I do find myself asking her: Does it hurt? It was a shock, wasn’t it? and similar.
Also, when it’s just a little fall or if she lands on something soft she tends to look at me with big eyes as if to see my reaction so in this split second I make sure she’s not hurt and then go: She fell over! with a big smile. It works 9 out of 10 times and she just continues playing. 🙂
Before I learned about RIE, I stayed calm when my son got hurt, but I made a habit of kissing his boo boos to make them better. At 2 1/2, he comes to me when he’s hurt, saying he needs a kiss. I’ve been at a loss for how to handle it, and this video helps me. I’ve been missing the piece about asking what happened and reflecting on it. I can’t wait to try it out (not that I want him to be hurt), because I’m always amazed at the reactions and behavior changes that come from trying something the RIE way.
I think it’s great that you want to add the reflecting, but your boy coming for kisses when he’s hurt sounds really nice to me! I sure wouldn’t want that behavior to disappear!
Oh, I love that he comes to me for kisses! It’s the part about my magically making everything better. 😉 I definitely don’t want the kisses to go away!
Glad to read that your reply that it’s really nice to have them come to you for a kiss when hurt. With my daughter i have done the unconscious, and now mainly the conscious where we reflect, and then i ask how does she feel, but she still loves to come and have that kiss, cuddle, and a hug as the final part of the process when she has an accident. She also loves to reciprocate the adult action of kissing me when i have an owie which is sweet too.
Loved this video! It’s not such an issue now that my kids are a getting older, but when they were babies and they tripped, or fell, my husband would snatch them up and fuss over them. I told him he shouldn’t do that…mostly because if they really were injured, he could be aggravating the injury, but it’s good to know there were other reasons that make a lot of sense too!
I am new to your site, but really enjoying it. I appreciate this informative article and example of respecting little ones feelings and helping them to understand what happened and label feelings.
I try to do these things, but I also “mooch” my little ones boo-boos’. I never thought of it as being a magical cure that she couldn’t partake in.
“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.””
made me analyze my reactions in regards to the mooching.
While I dont want to downplay her feelings or make her think that she always needs rescued, for me it is instinctual to offer her a mooch. I wouldn’t want to set an example of stiffling feelings nor would i want to loose that part of our relationship.
I always ask “do you need a mooch” and if it’s a minor injury, she’ll either tell me she’s okay or mooch it herself. She also give us mooches on our boo-boos. I like to think in that way, she IS partaking in the cure.
Thanks, Kim… love the mooching! The key is that you are asking her first, trusting her to let you know what she needs. With pre-verbal children participation in any activity means allowing the child to communicate her individual needs in that particular situation, giving her that time, rather than assuming a need and rushing in with our response. This takes a combination of patience, sensitive observation, and self-reflection (so that we can understand that our projections may not be the child’s actual experience).
I actually had tears in my eyes upon watching this. I’m not exaggerating! This is INCREDIBLE.
Yeah, Dena, thank you for reminding me how incredible it is… There’s absolutely no question that this dad sees his baby girl as a whole little person.
Yes! And it seems he sees ALL children that way – I think my favorite part was when he explained what happened to the child who inquired about what happened…oh and also when he explained it to his child, pointing to the plastic bottle, showing that it’s hard.
I’m amazed over and over again thinking about this clip and this approach to children – and people of all ages!
Yes, it is amazing and extraordinary, but I’m hoping it will be the norm one day for babies (and children of all ages) to be perceived as deserving this level of respect. 🙂 Once you truly perceive babies this way, it does seem normal to treat them as this dad does. And you can’t ever go back….
A little off the subject, but this video and some of the responses remind me of something I overheard years ago when my son was three at kindy. One of his friends fell and hurt his knee. His mother helped him up, comforted him and kissed his knee. My son was watching and after the mother (satisfied her son had recovered) walked away, the young boy turned to my son and said “Her kisses don’t work, but I don’t have the heart to tell her”. It made me chuckle and melted my heart at the same time.
Nicole, that is adorable!
This is great to see. To share one of my own examples, my nephews aged 3.5 and 9 months both look to me if I am there when they get hurt or get a fright… The older one comes to me when he is hurt because he knows that i have a bag of tricks and creams, but also I explain what happened and let him tell it in his own words… the little one fell over backwards the other day and someone else rushed in to scoop him up, but I was right there… I locked eyes with him and said “did you get a fright? oops, you fell over didn’t you?” and he was trying to roll over and carry on when he was picked up… nothing wrong with that, but i was struck by his acceptance of me not rushing in and the eye contact was brilliant.
Sounds lovely, Jayne!
I’m very new to RIE, and have been struggling a bit to implement it, because when my 3 months old baby starts to cry I’m never quite sure what to do.. I have all these conflicting ideas in my head (which I’m sure don’t help the situation at all): “Is this cry more than just struggling?” “Should I pick her up now, or will she manage on her own?” “Is she too young for that?” “Maybe she needs something and I’m misinterpreting her”, etc. I try to stay calm and figure out what she is trying to say, but unfortunately it seems her cries are all very much the same. I wait and ask “Do you want me to pick you up?” But I can’t tell what’s a yes or a no. When she’s crying very much she won’t even open her eyes or look at me so I’m not sure if I should wait for her to calm down before picking her up or jus ask if she wants that and then let her know I’m going to… but then again she didn’t really tell me she wanted to.
By the way this reminds me of earlier this week when she had to take her shots and my mom was there. She started crying because it (obviously) hurt and my mom started saying “Oh it’s okay, it’s gone now” and I just gently let her know it was okay for her to cry. It hurt and it’s normal she wanted to cry it out. I just held her and assured her I was there for her and she could cry all she needed.
Thank your for all your posts! They are so so helpful and it was them that introduced me to RIE. So thank you.
I couldn’t hear him at all despite putting the volume all the way up. Is there subtitles???
He speaks softly and there’s a lot of background noise, sorry you couldn’t hear him. He says, “You got bumped… I hear you… I hear you…” Then tapping the bottle, “this is hard…” Then when the little boy comes over and looks at his daughter, he explains, “She got bumped. She didn’t like that.” Then he asks her, “Do you want me to pick you up?”, etc.
I *think* there’s a way to add subtitles or captions in YouTube?? But thanks for sharing that b/c I also couldn’t tell what was said! 🙂
Thank you so much for sharing this! I love receiving reminders of how to stay respectful and in the moment with my toddler and infant throughout the day – this is wonderful!
It felt good to know that I was doing the right thing. Just recently my 2year old son encountered a 2 year old girl (of my former classmate).The girl was friendly but for some reasons my son was not comfortable so he avoided her the whole time. I heard my former classmate telling her daughter that maybe my son was “mad at her”, but I immediately corrected them. I told the mom, “oh don’t tell her that”, continuing to the daughter, “he is not mad at you, he is just shy to play with you.”
I also loved the fact that it was being explained to the kid what happened. What I usually do is just say “sorry” to my son and hug him. I would add some of these, (but not hoping any kind of injury soon).
I just had to work on the comforting words to be used instead of “it is okay”, etc. To make him feel that I am acknowledging his feelings.
This is really great approach but when my little boy has been bumped and cries, I find it hard not to panic and cry myself. I have some anxiety which I wish I could control better for him, and hopefully in time I will but I instinctively pick him up and soothe him. I really want to follow respectful parenting but I feel like I’m doing this wrong.