Degrees of struggle

Kala_struggle_MiMThere is a story about a butterfly you must have heard – a man was watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from his cocoon. The butterfly seemed like it was having a hard time cutting through and coming out into the world, so the man decided to help – he took scissors and cut the cocoon open. The butterfly came out without a problem, but his wings were all wrinkled and weak. The man was waiting for the butterfly to stretch his wings and fly, but it never did. It only walked around dragging its wings behind…

Infant educator Magda Gerber Said: ‘If you can learn to struggle you can learn to live’. Easier said than done? Surely. But why?

Struggle comes in degrees

Struggle is an integral part of our lives, and if we can learn to deal with it, if we can learn to cope, we can learn to live to the fullest. It’s not bad. It’s not good. It just is. The fascinating thing about struggle is that we have come to believe that it comes in degrees, and it only ever comes in the intensity we can handle… well, usually.

Right now we are observing our tiny baby daughters taking first steps (no, no, not literally – not yet!) in the world filled with struggle. We are looking at them deal with their frustrations, as they learn new skills, master new movements, notice new things.

The other day Kala was lying on the side lifting her head up ever so slightly, and then banging it with her whole strength on the floor. She cried. I knelt down and talked to her, then picked her up. When I put her down, she rolled onto her side and … of course, did the whole thing again. And again. The fourth time she was very careful placing her head on the floor, so very careful. You could see the intensity of experience, the focus, the relief and finally the pride on her face. (Anna)

Learning comes with struggle, but if we protect our babies from the daily struggle from the very beginning, we might be doing what the man in the butterfly story did – we might be preventing them from experiencing the degree of struggle that is necessary for them now to be able to fly later.

Learning to struggle is the first real experience of learning to deal with frustration, emotions, fears and anxieties. The first opportunity to live life to the fullest, with all its ups and downs, floors and blankets, bruises and laughs.  What better way to learn to struggle than in a safe place, with our beloved mum or dad nearby?

This tiny (in our eyes) struggle to reach a toy, to roll over, to get out from under the chair is exactly the level of struggle our kids are designed to endure… and overcome. The older we grow, the bigger the struggles in front of us.

First it’s your head on the floor;

Then a toy that is too far to reach;

You got stuck under a table;

Your Mum or Dad disappeared behind the doors;

Then it’s a fight with a friend over who will get to use the yellow tractor;

A ball that you wanted to kick but missed;

Not exactly the grade you wanted at school;

An exam you failed;

A friend who turned out not to be one;

But maybe, just maybe, if we were allowed to experience the tiniest of struggles in the beginning of our adventure on Earth, we can move on and be prepared to face it all with courage, dignity and the ability to get up and go on when YOU are ready.

In those first moments of struggle if we are present, if we manage not to take it all away, we are teaching our kids a very powerful lesson – that struggle is not bad, it’s not good, it just is. And maybe we are preparing them for a wonderfully full life, when once they fly out from our homes they will be ready to face the world with all its bruises and laughs. Because we didn’t take it all away when they were oh so tiny – but because we were there with them, right there on the floor, crying with them and picking them up, but not taking their struggles away.

Whose struggle is it, anyway?

Why do we struggle when our child struggles? Struggle equals emotions, and so we have to face not only our child’s emotions, but also our own. Our own emotions that have to do with our child’s cries, discomfort, but also our own emotions about the way WE struggle… or choose not to.

Mona has been a real “Zen-Baby“. She was happy from day one. She loves to play on her own for long periods of time. She barely cries or screams. She is taking her time when it comes to gross motor development. She tried to roll onto her tummy for months. Barely showing any frustration if she didn‘t. And if she struggled it was still quiet and calm. I was with her. I held her and then she went on. Right now she is working hard on a sitting posture.  And she wants to get up onto higher furnishings. She realized that she doesn‘t always has to stay on the floor. So she wants to be up. Up up up. But she can‘t. She tries. And she cries. Her crying is complaining. Louder and full of voice now. No more Zen. And it is harder for me to cope. With the noise and the fact that it is still such a long way to go until she will be where she wants to be. (Nadine)

Part of our struggle as an adult is that we know the big picture. We know what we could achieve and if we don‘t, if we struggle, we are upset and it‘s hard to deal with it. We see three steps ahead but often we oversee the power of the moment.

If we step in too quickly in the moment of struggle, if we give them the last push to rolling over, hand them the toy their tiny arms can‘t reach we don‘t just help the butterfly leave the cocoon. We send another message that says: “This now is not it. See over there, behind those big mountains? This is the world. This is where you should be.“ And we take their ability to live right now. In this very moment.

And then, the bigger the struggles are, the higher the mountains become. And we become frustrated. We oversee the small hills in between. We aim for the big ones, we run, jump and… we might fall, because we have underestimated the distance between here and now. We do this once, twice. And then… Well, we suppose most of you know what‘s next. We give up. We‘re fearful. Avoiding. And we can‘t deal with that either. Because we weren‘t able to deal with the small hills.

So, to support our sons and daughters, we have chosen to let them struggle. We don’t walk away leaving them there, we don’t turn our heads, but we also don’t take it away from them. We try to empower them by being there, by making sure they have us right there when they need us, by being their rock and their tree. We let them get out of their cocoons “on their own, with our help”, in the hope that their beautiful wings will take them up when they’re ready.

How do you cope with your child’s struugles? What helps you believe that they can do it? We LOVE to hear from you!

Anna & Nadine

Play as movement

Having looked at what helps uninterrupted play and what might hinder it we now want to look at the fun side. What DO children at the age range between 6-12 months do? What are they interested in? What keeps them busy? In this post we will talk about different movements and positions you may have observed in your child, different ways of understanding play at this stage, and age-appropriate toys or objects. Happy reading!

 

 

A child at the age of 6 months is getting mobile. You might notice he is spending much less time now lying on his back observing his fingers. Your child will roll onto his belly. And back. Suddenly the world is upside down – or as they will soon find out – the way it really is. The neck strengthens and he will keep his head up for longer and longer times. That gives him the opportunity to look around more, follow you and your movements more. But also follow moving objects, which makes him want to follow with his whole body. And this is the challenge that will keep him busy for another while. Some children start creeping, others crawling. Some won’t do this for months.

Fact is – your baby is in motion. He needs more space, a wider area to practice all those new movements.

This is what you can expect to see or have seen (as far as movement and coordination is concerned) once your baby gets to this age range:

Movement (a.k.a. milestones – there are many more than you may have expected)

  • Lying on their back

Babies can spend an enormous amount of time on their back – try it yourself, lie down, get an object (or not) and give yourself enough time to explore everything around you. You might be surprised at how much you can see. We often have the idea that babies don’t see enough when on their backs (sometimes people place cushions under their head to help them see better) – but have a look yourself, and notice that if you use your head, neck, and shoulders enough you can actually see everything you need… and maybe more! One of the bonuses of letting babies lie flat on their back for as long as they want to is the intense neck exercise they set up for themselves in that position – if you do this, no tummy time is definitely necessary to strengthen their neck.

  • Lying on the side

This position is often missed at this stage if a baby is put in tummy time (read Lisa Sunbury’s excellent article on tummy time here and Janet Lansbury’s wise words here), as they do not get the chance to move into and out of that position on their own. It will probably be learnt later, but at this stage in development, a side-lying position is excellent for practicing balance (try!) and a little later for playing with objects

  • Moving from the side to tummy and back
  • Turning from back to tummy and back

In all those turning and moving positions you will see a lot of struggle and effort. That is because it is difficult. It is a challenge. Trust that your baby is capable of doing it, and trust your instinct on when to step in and help: ‘It seems like you have had enough. I will put you back on your back’. In the Pikler home, the nurses never rolled the babies onto their backs from the tummy position – they picked them up and placed them gently on their backs. This was so as to allow the babies a chance to learn that movement by themselves.

  • Lying on their tummy

Lying on their tummy using forearms for support (head up).

Lying on their tummy with arms stretched for support (now try doing that for a longer period of time and play at the same time – wow!).

Lifting head, arms and legs up from the floor (who said babies need more exercise?).

From this position (or any variation of it) you may see your baby pulling up to a half-sitting position (supported with one arm stretched out), and later to creeping on their arms and knees.

  • Rolling
  • Crawling

What some of us have some to call ‘crawling’ Dr Emmi Pikler has termed ‘creeping’ (using hands and knees), what we will refer to as ‘crawling’ here is borrowed from Pikler’s terminology and means your baby moving forward in a lying position, using their arms to pull the body forward.

Here you can see your baby using their arms to pull, or their legs to push their body, alternating between right and left or using both at the same time.

  • Sitting

This usually comes later than crawling, creeping and all those positions we mentioned above. We are often being told that babies should be able to sit when they are 6 months old. In our experience, if a baby is not sat up they will sit by themselves between 7-10 months, but don’t take that as a guideline.

Pulling a baby up to sitting is not how he would naturally learn to sit. Most babies learn to sit from a side position (half-sitting), or by pulling up from crawling. Lie down on your back and try getting to sitting in different ways – which one is most natural to you? Which one comes with least effort.

  • Kneeling and moving on their knees
  • Pulling up to standing
  • Standing
  • Walking

There are many many transitional positions, which we have not mentioned here. But as you watch your baby grow and play with their movement, you will see the growing competence, self-confidence, and joy. Learning to play through movement is the first time they are also learning to learn.

So this is it. A few milestones. A bit of going back and forth in development. A bit of struggle in between and some relaxation here and there. That‘s not too hard is it?

Well. We are aware that this is a learning process for all of us. In all aspects. But in the end this is what your baby does most of the time in his first years on Earth. This is what really interests them. This is part of their foundation they build on which they then keep developing. So make it possible for them. Be part of the process. And gain a good chunk of it all for yourself.

What have you observed your baby do in these positions? Was there anything that surprised you? We LOVE to hear your thoughts!

Anna & Nadine

 

Some more reading around the subject:

‘Unfolding of infants’ natural gross motor development’ Dr Emmi Pikler and Klara Pap, RIE.

‘Pikler Bulletin’ Dr Emmi Pikler (also includes and article by Dr Judith Falk). Sensory Awareness Foundation.