Changing relationships through changing diapers.

Two hours after our daughter was born a nurse came into the delivery room to check if Mona was ok and good to go home with us. She did what she had to do – measuring, weighing etc. Then my husband took over to dress Mona. I was lying on the bed watching him care for her as if she had always been there. He talked to her, kept close contact and looked in those eyes that could barely see anything. The nurse then looked at him and said: “Well I guess there is nothing else for me to do here. You clearly know what you‘re doing.“ And he did. He knew what he was doing – not just dressing her to keep her warm but also giving her comfort during her first hours on this planet. Bonding with her. Starting a wonderful father-daughter-relationship. (Nadine)

We have talked about diaper changes before in this post, but in response to our recent post some of you have asked: ‘Yes, free play and care moments need to be in balance, that makes sense. In theory. BUT how do we build a relationship on the changing table? Or with a toddler, who is running away the moment he hears the word “diaper”?’

So really, how?

Since there are a few differences and new challenges arising once your child grows older, gets more mobile or even talking and walking – we decided to split this into 3 posts. This one will be about changing newborns and infants and we will then move on to mobile infants and in the last post talk about changing toddlers. All of those have new challenges but also wonderful ways of getting and staying in close contact with your child.

Every moment matters

Diapering matters as much as playing together. Dressing matters as much as reading books. Feeding matters as much as going for a walk together. All those moments of being together are important, and one is not more important, or more valuable than the other.

‘If the adult wants to get over with the feeding, the changing of the diaper, the bathing, the dressing quickly, the child will not only feel the abrupt, mechanical moves unpleasant, but he will also feel that the time spent together is dreary for both of them’ (Judith Falk, MD, ‘When we touch the infant’s body…’)

We don’t have a magic wand, but what we can share with you are our own experiences, and things that so far have worked magic for us… the tricks we have up our sleeve are: slow down (don’t panic, it’s just a dirty diaper, a couple more minutes won’t make that much of a difference); communicate and wait for a response.

One trick that does help is this (sorry, this might not be pleasant): imagine you are helpless, for some reason you need to be taken care of by other people. You cannot communicate with them. You cannot do things for yourself. Just for one moment, one time try and imagine that. How would you like other people to take care of you in the most intimate moments?

Starting a diaper change before you start a diaper change

We usually decide to change a baby‘s diaper for one of these two reasons – we have smelled or heard something happen in there, or we simply think it is time again. Our child, however, might not feel that way and even if he does, he might not think “Oh surely Dad is gonna come and pick me up to change my nappy any minute.“

It is our job to prepare our child. To let her know before we pick her up from her bed, blanket or playpen. Usually there is no rush. Even if there has been a major number two, the world won’t end if we take a couple extra minutes to let our baby know what has happened and what is about to happen. The diaper is already dirty. There is still time for us to slowly engage with our child saying “I think you need a new diaper. I will pick you up now (in a couple of minutes) and take you to the changing table.“

If you have ever followed a newborn’s eyes while carrying him through the flat you will have seen how nervously he tried to follow what was happening with him. Although he does not see very far he feels that he is being carried around and that bright and dark shades change around him. If you tell him where you are going and are walking slowly he will feel much more safe and secure. You are his rock, you can explain the world and make him feel safe – or choose not to.

Talk to me

Communicate. Don’t talk about irrelevant stuff, but do talk about what is going on – your voice, the words and the actions are like an orchestrated symphony. They come together, and slowly begin to make sense. Before you know it, you will see your baby’s reaction to the sound of your voice, and afterwards to the words you say. Before you know it connections will be made, and the world will be less scary, less unexpected.

You are the one who knows it all – sharing it with your baby, communicating and letting them know what is going on, makes your relationship this much stronger. ‘You are reliable. You respect me.’ is the message you’re giving.

Wait for me

Say what you’re going to do and… wait. Wait for the words to sink in, for a slightest reaction. For a response. Wait for your baby to give you a sign she is ready. Not today? Ok, maybe tomorrow. But just because she doesn’t respond just yet, doesn’t mean she’s not trying to understand. So wait. Just a little bit more. You’ll be surprised how soon she will start responding, and letting you know she’s ok with all of it.

Communicating is important, but remember that communication is a two-way street. You and your baby are both in it. Wait for the response, because you are trying to have a dialogue. Some responses just take longer :)

Try to do all this if you can, but …

… above all just try to be in the moment with your baby. This is your moment together, and yes, it might be that this moment is accompanied by a smelly diaper, but hey – that’s also part of life, right? Try to put the phone away for this time, don’t look at other things if you don’t have to. Talk to your baby and your baby only – we have discovered this to be the key, the one thing that can transform a diaper change into a wonderful dialogue with your newborn.

And if one diaper change goes not so very well – that is fine, there will be others :) Many, many, oh-so-many others, bringing with them all those opportunities for connection and dialogue. You’re the best Mom/Dad in the world. Your baby knows that already. ‘It didn’t go so well this time, did it? Wow, we were both really tired.’ Most likely the look you’ll see on her face will tell you something like this: ‘Don’t worry about it Mom. It’s OK Dad. I get it. Happens to the best of us.’

‘The image that the young infant creates of his own body based on the experiences of the first few months, or years of his life will deeply influence his future. His care during infancy will affect his entire life, personality, his self-image, the development of his self-consciousness and […] his adult behaviour as a parent. His relationship to his own body and its functioning depends on the quality of the care, its being pleasant or unpleasant, and the good or bad feeling of the adult nursing him.’ (Judith Falk)

What are the biggest challenges when changing diapers? Do you have any magic you want to share with us? We LOVE to hear from you!

Nadine & Anna

A perfect balance of free play and care times

In response to our recent post (Free Play) we have received a few comments from people suggesting that allowing children to play freely, without our directions, suggestions and guidance (as in our example with the cup, when a child comes running to you with a cup and rather than prompt what it is, or suggest what to do with it you… wait) might mean losing out on numerous valuable teaching opportunities. We respectfully disagree, and here is why…

First of all, let us clarify this: we are not suggesting that children should be left alone to figure out the world, without our help, assistance and presence. Even in play, it is great if we can be around to observe and help when needed. If we can be present, we can then be invited to participate and follow our child’s lead, making sure that the game is their, not our, invention.

But then again – do children need our guidance in figuring out the rules of this daily game of life? Sure. Do they need our modeling of certain socially acceptable behaviors, and our help in acquiring them? Of course. But does this mean we need to do all of this guiding, teaching and modeling while they are engrossed in play? We think not.

Even with very small babies there are plentiful other opportunities that will allow us to do all that guiding, teaching and modelling, and yet leave their play to them. If we allow ourselves to see all those moments, we can then happily sit back and observe how they spread the wings of their imagination, and let the cup be a flying saucer, a turtle, or their best friend.

We believe that the moments of care (feeding, dressing, changing etc.) are those times when we can ask for collaboration and lead, while playtime is the time when we can step back and follow.

This allows us and our children to have the balance we want (and need). To connect in times when we need to be there. To guide and model, and ask for cooperation. To teach the rules of the game. But at the same time, play remains play. No hidden agendas, no teaching language, social skills, or numbers, no jumping the line.

Lead and ask for collaboration in care moments

‘Many people may believe – perhaps […] due to […] taking obedience for cooperation […] – that the cooperation of the infant and young child (in fact his obedience) is important […] because in this way, they can learn quicker how to dress, undress and wash by themselves; and once it runs in his blood in what order he is requested to reach out his hand and feet, he will stretch then out even before he is asked to; once he knows how to take off his T-shirt, how to put on his trousers, the time required for the care activities can be shortened down, and the child will become independent sooner. And by all this […] time that can be devoted to “more useful”, “more noble” goals: like being “engaged” with the child, playing together etc. can be saved’ (Maria Vincze, MD, ‘The meaning of cooperation during care dressing on the diapering table, dressing table, cushion’) [italics ours]

All too often we try to rush through moments of care in order to engage with our children in play. And all too often we want to be so engaged in our children’s play that it might become our play, or that play changes into fulfilling our agendas (like teaching words, letters, numbers etc.). If, however, we choose to see moments of care as equally valuable to all the other moments when we can be with our children, they provide a world of opportunities for all this guiding and teaching we want to do. It is in our nature to want to teach, and want to share what we know.

What can happen in moments of care, if we are fully present, connected and don’t feel the need to rush? We can teach our children:

Lots of language (possibilities are endless!)
How to cooperate
What is ok and what is not
Some social expectations
Respect for their own bodies (and, by extension, those of other people)
What our expectations are, and how far they can push the boundaries (and they can test and test and test…)
How to try again and again
How to approach a problem
How to enjoy being with other people
Respect

In other words, we can give them roots.

Follow and collaborate in play

If we do all that, or maybe if we realize that we are already doing all of that, perhaps the pressure will lift and we can give the babies back their sacred time of play. We will no longer feel the need to teach, lead, model and guide when they play – we are already doing all that in times of care, in those times that are equally valuable, and that provide us with endless opportunities to do just that.

So, is there anything we need to do when our children play? Yes – be there.

If a child is to keep his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in. (Rachel Carson)

If we are there, present and observing, waiting rather than jumping in with our hidden agendas, our children can learn:

That because they are important to us, whatever they are interested in is also interesting to us
That their ideas are valuable
That their ideas are not wrong, or inappropriate, and that they can share them with us
That dreaming is great, and making things up is even better
That there is not only one correct solution to any given problem
Taking lead, sharing and inviting others to join
Respect

In other words, we can give them wings.

So yes, we don’t think children need our guidance or our teaching when they play. They need our presence.

What do you think? We LOVE to hear your thoughts!

Anna & Nadine

More interesting, related reading:

A recent article reporting a study on children’s response to directiveness of mothers in play (among other things) is here.
The link to the original article is here.
‘Ten commandments of play based learning’ from Emily at Abundant Life Children is here.

 


 

 

 

The Fuss about Feeding

This post is a continuation of our thoughts and reflections on the day-to-day respectful parenting practices. We started with diapering, and now we move on to feeding. We will only focus on infant feeding here, and will try to write about feeding older children later on. Before we go on, there are some things we need to say.

We have nothing to say about the choices you make with regards to breast or bottle. Or both. We have made our decisions, you have made yours. We respect that. There have recently (again) been a flurry of various posts and articles on one or the other side of the fence. We believe you have chosen, as we did, the best possible option for your family. If you are still thinking about it, the only advice we have is this: make an informed choice about the feeding option that you think will be best for the whole family. Yes, your baby is number one, but you are no less important. Look for information and support you need. If for some reason your choice is not working out, be open to other possibilities. Seek support, you deserve it and might need it. Look for the community that will value your choice and honour it, ignore the one that will judge it. Yes, we are aware of the issues that have been raised with regards to breastmilk and infant immune system. But one option that seems to be best, might not be best in the long run and for everybody. Basically, we believe that feeding your baby goes well beyond the whole fuss about bottles and breasts. That it is not about what you use to feed your baby, but about how you do it.

We believe there are two key issues that are involved in feeding an infant: nourishment and connection. And, putting breasts and bottles aside, we will focus on connection and relationship with your baby, which seem to be left out of a number of feeding arguments and debates (luckily, not all ). Because essentially, we believe that these two things are more important than any debate over anything regarding feeding. Also, they can be provided and enjoyed by any family member, anytime. Isn’t that a powerful thought?

As you may have guessed, we will not have much to say about nourishment. This issue needs to be discussed with your doctor, if you have any concerns. Instead, we will focus on the connection you can create during those intimate moments when you feed your infant, and the respectful relationship you can build in those moments.

Throughout this post we will talk about ‘feeding’ meaning breast or bottle, and ‘parent’ meaning anyone who is feeding the baby.

There is one thing about feeding, which makes it similar to diapering – you have to be there. Both of you. There is no other way. Which is why, in our opinion, it might be worth making it meaningful for both of you. Feeding gives us an opportunity to create a time for bonding, a time for feeding your infant with food but also with your attention. It will make feeding times more pleasant, and will make it easier for your baby to play on his own afterwards (and for you to have a moment of rest, or to do those things you need or want to do – in our opinion much more efficient than doing them while feeding). But it goes both ways – we, parents, want that quality time with our kids too. We also want their attention. And feeding is the time that we can all experience it. Maybe, then, apart from filling our babies with our attention, attentive feeding times can also fill us with their attention, thus letting us leave them to play afterwards…

Comfort – for both of you

You will feed your baby often. Sometimes the feeding will be long, for some babies it takes more time, some babies feed more during the night. If, like us, you believe that feeding is a great opportunity to spend quality time with your baby, it will work best if you can be as comfortable as possible. We have all probably done the weirdly-hunched-over feedings, or the barely-even-sitting feedings. If you are not comfortable, chances are the only connection you will be making is with your spine, or your arm.

There are lots of ways you can feed, lots of positions you can try out. We have found trying an important part of this journey – tell your baby you were not too comfortable last time, and you would like to sit with your feet up today. It also lets your baby know that while satisfying his hunger is your priority at that moment, it is also important that you do it with respect for both of you. One minute to find a comfortable position or a pillow will not make that much of a difference for him, but it might for you. Communicate and explain, and then sit down and enjoy 

If you are comfortable and relaxed, he will be as well. It will also make it much easier to find pleasure in those wonderful moments.

One thing that is important in finding a position for your baby to feed, is to always make sure he has an option of letting you know he’s had enough.

Being present and attentive

Nowadays we tend to use every spare minute to interact with the world. We‘ve got laptops, tablets and mobile phones that let us fill every moment that could possibly filled with boredom. I dare to say that most of us find it very difficult to just sit down and relax. Not doing anything. Not watching anything. An evening with no TV, no internet, no telephone. Can you imagine this?

Well. Nature is pretty awesome. It gives us the chance to get back to those precious moments. It gives us a baby that needs to be fed. Often. Sometimes for long periods of time. And while feeding this baby we can practice the not doing anything bit. Why?

Maybe because it is healthy to relax all your senses. To not think. Not interact. Maybe because motherhood is an incredibly busy time, and moments of peace are precious. But maybe – and you already guessed that this might be our reason behind – because your child will feel the difference. He will feel you are there. Just with him. In deepest connection. You‘re feeding not just his stomach but also his soul. Doesn‘t this sound wonderful? It’s a different way of staying connected (the older meaning of the word ), without the use of any connecting devices. It’s just about the two of you.

Be fully there

We’ve all been there when someone is serving us in the shop, selling us something, helping us fill in the documents, or helping us find the right person to talk to in the office, while all the while talking on the phone. Not a pleasant feeling, and often leaves us feeling as if we were a nuisance. Worse still – have you ever been out for dinner with someone and they constantly kept checking their phone? You know how it feels… Mealtimes together are great, not only because the food tastes nice. Sure, there will be times when you need to do something. To make a call. To answer an e-mail. But if you delay doing it until after the feeding, your baby will feel he got your full, undivided attention, and will be more likely to let you do your thing while he plays alone for those few minutes.

How many parents love to watch their sleeping baby? Adore it. Love it to bits. Well great news: you can do this while he is awake. While he can feel you adoring and loving him. And once he‘s asleep – you can watch TV, check on the internet. Or simply close your eyes too.

It does sound simple and we agree it isn‘t always that easy. But it’s worth a try. And you will see how deeply addicted you can get to it. So while feeding your baby try unitasking  And leave the multitasking abilities for other occasions, when you need them more.

Creating a peaceful moment of connection

If you are in a loud or crowded place, move away a bit if you can. Turn your back to the crowds, and your face to your baby. If you’re having dinner with your friends, this time fully focussed on your baby might make a world of difference for everyone – your baby will be satisfied, and filled with your attention, you will be able to turn back to your friends and give them the attention they need.

Will my newborn really care if I read messages on my phone while he is nursing with his eyes closed? We say yes. Because when will you see if he‘s opening his eyes for a moment? And while they might not see that far they can feel so much more. Remember how you can feel a person staring at your back. Why should newborns not be able to feel that way? And even if the baby is tired and half asleep and does not realize what you are doing – this is a great chance to practise. Because when they get older, they will ask for your attention. During mealtimes, during play. They don‘t always want you to interact with them – but they want you to be there and observe. And it does not have to mean you are glued eyeball to eyeball all the time while you’re feeding – but respect their need for connection, as well as yours.

Undivided attention is one great part of the RIE principles / Pikler approach. It means to be with your child 100% while feeding, changing or bathing him. During those intimate and very precious moments. It gives you the time to fill up emotionally as well – let’s be honest, not only babies need our attention, we need theirs too. And it also gives us a chance to fill our babies’ attention needs, so that for those times when we need to do something else, like make a call, answer an e-mail or take a shower ) we can, because they know we will be with them again for the next feeding session.

Feeding a baby is a basic need you are responding to. It is part of the bonding process. And as we said before – here you have the chance to feed more needs than the obvious one.

What your baby will learn:

That he is important and that his health is important to you
That mealtimes are pleasant and are not only about eating, but a great way to spend some time with each other (probably much appreciated later on in life as well!)
That it is important to pay attention to the other person when engaged in a task together
Respect for the body: his own – when you don’t ask him to eat more than he needs or wants, and that of other people – when you explain that it is important for you to be sitting comfortably
Lots and lots of language!

Further readings on this:
http://piklerexperience.blogspot.co.at/2012/02/breastfeeding-with-love-and-respect.html (Mama Nadine)
http://www.janetlansbury.com/2010/04/beyond-bottles-and-breasts-the-key-to-whole-baby-nourishment/ (Janet Lansbury)
the picture above was kindly provided by: http://lindsaymitchell.blogspot.co.nz – thank you !