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

Boys don’t cry

sensitivityOne day, when I picked up Leander from kindergarten, I watched him ride a scooter around. Another boy ran into him with a tricycle and Leander fell. It wasn‘t bad, he didn‘t hurt himself much but still he cried a lot. Another boy watched the situation and then came over and said: “You know what I do when I fall?“ “What?“ I asked. “I don‘t cry!“ I was stunned and angry at the same time. And felt somehow sorry for that boy. (Nadine)

 


Boys are tough.

Boys wrestle and play football.
Boys are loud and wild.
Boys don‘t cry.

Right ?

Isn‘t that what society has in mind? What people think of boys? Don’t boys generally get a different look from those around when they cry, than girls?

But instead of serving this picture – wouldn‘t it be great to have a boy that is allowed to cry? That wants to cuddle up. That rather sits back and watches other kids run around and play every now and then? A boy who knows it’s ok to be happy AND it’s ok to be sad. That it’s ok to run around and be wild AND it’s ok to sit quietly in a corner when you’re not in a mood for running.

Well the good news is – maybe you can have both! How? Raise him like a child, not like a boy.

We have been talking about respect a lot. And about sensitive children in general. About acknowledging emotions, allowing feelings to come, responding to a child‘s needs. If you do this you will most likely raise a child who is used to express his feelings and capable of acting in a way that feels his own and not what others expect him to be. It’s hard sometimes, for both you and him. It might be different to what the people around are doing. You might be told you’re raising him like a girl. But he’ll also be grateful one day that you let him own his feelings; that he knows what it means to be happy, sad and angry; that he understands his emotions and when he grows older they won’t overwhelm him.

What the boy mentioned above probably heard from his parents (or peers) was that he doesn‘t need to cry, that he should be tough, be a boy! What he might lose then is his healthy sense of his own feelings and pain. So you might end up with a child that falls, gets back up and keeps running. Great? On the surface, yes. And of course, there will be times in life when he will have to do exactly that – get up and go like nothing had happened. But…

What about when he gets older, meets other people, falls in love? If he is not able to grasp his own feelings how can he understand others? How can he live a healthy relationship with someone if he‘s not capable of saying what he might need, if he does not even know that himself ?

Think about your daughters for a moment. Wouldn‘t you want them to fall in love with a boy who respects her feelings, who is gentle and caring?

But it‘s not about the people he might meet and fall in love with. It‘s also about himself.

Most boys are taught from an early age to act tough and repress their emotions. In particular, sensitive boys learn to deny their real selves in order to be accepted and approved of by their peers. This denial can create fear, anxiety, and low self-esteem. (Ted Zeff, “The strong sensitive boy“)

But won‘t my boy be bullied if he is so sensitive ?

We think – No! By acknowledging, understanding, respecting, responding and empathizing you provide him with strong self-confidence. If he is always allowed to express himself exactly the way he feels right now, if he is always accepted for who he is he will learn to be able to stand up for himself and protect himself. And he will most likely attract and gather around people who are more like him – sensitive, understanding and empathic.

But he is a boy after all – shouldn‘t he be allowed to run around and scream ?

Of course. We are not saying you should raise him to be sensitive instead of loud and wild and … well … boyish. But these things come naturally. Just as we don‘t brush away their feelings we also don‘t force them to be quiet and still when they want to jump and down and sing “Oh Maddo hadda farm eehaaeehaahooowww !!“ from the centre of their lungs.

When Leander enters the backyard of the building we live in some people quickly close their windows. In the U-Bahn quite often I am looked at as “Can you not tell him to be quiet?“ He needs activity and lots of body movement in order to calm down at night and sleep well. But he also needs a long cuddle and quiet space to be whole and happy. (Nadine)

Our task is to provide both. Love and understanding, empathy as well as action and wild play. But coming to think of it – isn‘t that what our recently born girls might need too ?

We‘ll see.

Do you think boys and girls should be raised differently? How? We are looking forward to your thoughts on this one!!

Nadine & Anna

Further reading:

http://www.positive-parents.org/2013/04/parenting-highly-sensitive-boy.html

“The strong sensitive boy“ by Ted Zeff

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/creative-development/201201/the-highly-sensitive-boy

 

 

Raising sensitive children

You may have heard of the term “Highly sensitive person“ (HSP). Those 15-20% of our population who are born with a nervous system that is highly aware and quick to react to everything. Since you don‘t become highly sensitive at some point but you are from birth on, there are the so called “Highly sensitive children“ hidden in our world. They “grasp subtle changes, prefer to reflect deeply before acting, and generally behave conscientiously“ (Elaine Aron). They are also easily overwhelmed by high levels of stimulation, sudden changes, and the emotional distress of others. Because children are a blend of a number of temperament traits, some HSCs are fairly difficult–active, emotionally intense, demanding, and persistent–while others are calm, turned inward, and almost too easy to raise except when they are expected to join a group of children they do not know. But outspoken and fussy or reserved and obedient, all HSCs are sensitive to their emotional and physical environment.

What these children need is understanding and appreciation for their trait. This is what Elaine Aron, the author of several books on High sensitivity, states and what we certainly agree with. But…

We want to ask you this: What do you think would happen if we raised ALL children AS IF they were highly sensitive ?

And by that we don‘t mean carefully protecting your child from any uncomfortable or overstimulating situation in the world. We mean: when it comes to their emotions – acknowledge, understand, respect, respond and empathize.

Elaine Aron developed a questionnaire to see if your child is highly sensitive or not. It contains questions such as “Does your child startle easy?“ or “Does your child want to change clothes if wet or sandy?“. But it has also questions like “Does your child use big words for his/her age?“ or “Does your child ask deep, thought – provoking questions?“ in it.

Well – you wouldn‘t know until your child was about 3, 4, or 5 years old. What about the 3 years before that? You may not realize that your child is “different“ than others until you become aware of him playing rather quietly on his own than with a group of children, of him talking more or more meaningfully than other children. You may not be surprised by him not liking getting wet and sandy on the playground but see it as something he might get used to eventually.

But the first 3 years of life are crucial. And while we don‘t want to put a diagnosis in your head and consider your child to be highly sensitive we want to raise awareness to sensitivity in general.

Our culture is performance driven. You need to function and you need to function well. There is no time to be wasted to become independent, learn the basics in life and an instrument too. Good manners, the rules of our society and strategies to protect yourself, to compete and become successful. Sensitivity does not really fit in well here. It is usually combined with thoughts of shyness, fearfulness or fussiness. How can a person like that become successful and self-confident?

And so many parents tend to “toughen up their child“. A small scratch, a minor accident with the tricycle or the wrong coloured cup on the breakfast table are said to be “nothing“ and “not a big deal“. Get over it and move on. That‘s life!

But does preparing children for a harsh world by being harsh to them really work?

What if it is true what Robin Grille  (and countless others) suggest – that things like violence and war are not a political but a psychological issue? Wouldn’t it then make sense to celebrate sensitivity in our children in hope that we are raising sensitive people, who understand their own feelings and those of others; who know what they feel and are not afraid of these feelings; who are okay with being sad, angry and scared, as well as being happy and excited?

Dr Emmi Pikler and Magda Gerber both advocated an approach to child rearing, where we – parents, caregivers – respect the child for who he is. We believe this also means respecting their feelings and emotions. Even if we sometimes disagree. Even if we don’t understand. Even if they trigger in us something we can’t quite put our finger on, but that makes us uncomfortable.

What would it require us as parents to do?

  • Acknowledge our child’s feelings with respect.
  • Try to understand.
  • Respond, even if you don’t know what it is they are going through.
  • Empathize.

In day-to-day life it would probably mean coming to terms with our children’s strong emotional reactions to things like:

  • Spilled water (on them, on the carpet, on the table, even on someone else);
  • Dirty or wet hands;
  • Wrong kind of shirt. Wrong again. Not this one either;
  • Being too hot or too cold;
  • And countless others.

And while we would more often than not want to say that it doesn’t matter, it matters deeply to our child in that moment. And in fifteen years’ time we will probably think fondly of those moments and want them back. So is it really too much to ask?

It doesn‘t mean protecting your child from any situation that could be harmful. It doesn‘t mean compensating pain or fears with physical contact. It means RESPECTING all sorts of feelings and emotions and RESPONDING to them. It means letting our children do the work of preparing for the world “on their own, with our help”, rather than pushing them to do it faster.

In our recent e-mail exchange Lisa Sunbury says: “I don’t believe you can go wrong with simply validating  and allowing [your child’s] feelings, gently talking with him about what  happened to help him understand, and waiting patiently for him to come  up with answers he feels comfortable with in terms of how to respond  to situations like this. This is his work to do, and yours is to accept him, and offer gentle reassurance …“

‘As parents it’s not our job to toughen up our children to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.’  (L.R. Knost )

Perhaps one way of doing this is by celebrating our children’s sensitivity?

What do you think? We can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

Nadine & Anna

Catch me if you can – Diaper changing with a mobile infant

In our last post we talked about how to build a relationship with our newborn and infant on the changing table, what helps us to really connect and enjoy these many many moments together so that our child can then “go off and play“ happily afterwards. And while this all may have sounded doable it won‘t take long until your infant gets mobile. Turns onto his belly. Crawls. Stands up. And literally walks away from you… 

We are facing two new challenges now. Not just will we sometimes find it difficult to wrap a diaper around our child while he turns over and around. It won‘t be as simple as picking him up and taking him to the changing table either. Chasing each other around the room surely becomes a famous game now. So what to do?

Have fun

As much as the diaper needs to be changed now – don‘t forget to have fun. Crawling or running away is not a sign of an uncooperative child. It‘s play. It‘s fun. And why not start a diaper change with some joy and laughter ?

Yes. Diaper changes are about quality time together. About closeness and connection. About paying attention to each other. But that doesn‘t mean it can‘t start a few minutes earlier during play. As long as it is clear that the diaper change is what is on the menu next. Play. Have fun but make clear “Ok this is fun and I see you really want to continue playing, but I need to change your diaper now. Do you want to go to the changing table yourself or do you want me to carry you over?“

Cooperation is thus a two way street – we expect the child to answer to our invitation, but we have to be able to do the same. That is, while changing a diaper should clearly be about changing the diaper (and not about playing peek-a-boo), if the child invites us to play with him for a while we should also be able to accept this invitation, this way showing him we also want to cooperate with him. Surely if you look at it this way, you can imagine the child who is more mobile would be thinking along similar lines: “My mum does not cooperate with me the way she used to during diaper changes.” 

Stay in touch

Eye contact seems to get lost a lot during a diaper change. We are often so busy cleaning and wiping around our child‘s most intimite area, closing tiny buttons or holding those moving legs out of the way that we forget to actually stay in touch with our children. But if we want them to listen to us and to be with us – Cooperate – WE have to greet them first. So keep looking up. Draw the attention back to where you are and what you are doing. Mumbling the next step into the socks of your child will not make him feel as if you are talking to him or actually really waiting for his cooperation.

While starting a game of rolling over or trying to move away your child is showing that he is actually having fun up there with you. That he likes and enjoys those special times with you. But children easily get drawn into those games. Bringing them back to the changing table and the actual situation can help bringing you two back together. A gentle touch (maybe placing your hand on his chest) and eye contact interrupts this game and calms him down. You can then take it from there again.

Slow down even more

It is important to slow down and be gentle and calm with a newborn. Makes sense to us, doesn’t it. But with a moving and mobile infant we tend to follow his movements and his pace. Quite often when it becomes wild our hands become wild to. Even hectic. We wanna be quick and get the diaper on before he moves over again. Instead of staying in touch we are losing touch here. Losing our connection.
It helps to breathe a moment. Hold on, maybe close your eyes (if your child is safe). Calm yourself and then get back in touch.

Grow together

As the baby grows and begins to be more mobile, the interactions on the changing table on the one hand need to grow with the baby, but on the other – the underlying principle needs to remain the same. We are here to do something together, I am here to guide you, but this is a cooperative activity.

When our child turns onto his belly – we carefully turn him back onto his back. We may comment on it „You turned around. You like doing this. But I need you to stay on your back for a little so I can put on a new diaper.“

Remember that the child is developing. Instead of insisting on doing things a certain way – try and develop with him.

I remember raising the issue of Leander not wanting to lie on his back while being changed anymore. And how to get him to do so. Our family counsellor looked at me, smiled and said: “Leander has just learned to stand up. He has achieved a major milestone. He does not want to lie on his back anymore. Can you imagine changing him while standing?“ I couldn‘t but smile back and nod. I had difficulties changing him while standing up with our cloth diapers. But when he was able to develop so fast, to master those gross motor milestone, why should I stand still and not continue trying to develop myself too ? (Nadine) 

Obedience vs. Cooperation 

A common comment seems to be that “my child does not cooperate the way he used to”. Do we really mean he does not cooperate? Or do we simply mean he does not obey, or he is not acting in a way we are accustomed to, and expect him to… but is that the basis of cooperation? Perhaps we should redefine ‘cooperation’?

Therefore if we see the child as our active partner in all activities, ‘we do not always expect him to do what we want [...], but if we cooperate, the child from the beginning learns to want to cooperate with us’ (Anna Tardos, Amsterdam lecture, March 2013)

So what were you most challenging moments on the changing table ? What sort of games did your child come up with ? We’re always excited to hear your stories.
Nadine & Anna

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.

 


 

 

 

BCF 01/13 – “Loving Hands”

We would like to kick off this new section of our website with a wonderful book by Frédérick Leboyer. Not only has he introduced “Birth without violence” – the importance of which we both from Mamas  in the making can’t underline enough. He has also written and photographically documented a traditional Indian baby massage in his book “Loving hands”

Topped with some wonderful poem like quotes he describes The Art of Indian baby massage all Indian mothers use with their babies and teach their daughters to give their babies.

But this book contains a little more behind all the words and pictures. It’s the focus on our hands. How we gently, soft and loving touch the baby’s body. His soul. It is something also Emmi Pikler has talked about a lot.

“How different the picture of the world is for an infant when calm, patient, soft but secure and firm hands touch and lift him – and how distinct this world will look when those hands are impatient, rough or hectic, restless and nervous.” (Emmi Pikler)

And this is it. Not only during a baby massage or close cuddling should we take the time to touch our baby calm and gentle. We should do so every time we get in contact with him. 

“In the beginning hands are everything for the infant, they are the human, the world. The way we touch him, pick him up, dress him: that is us. precise and more characteristic than our words, our smile, our look.” (Emmi Pikler)

And so Leboyer’s “Loving Hands” is a wonderful introduction for an additional connection with our baby through which we can become even more aware of our hands and the way we touch another person’s body respectfully.

What are your thoughts on Baby massage? Has s/he enjoyed it? Do you think it has helped or supported attachment and bonding?

Weaning part 2: The big transition – From breast milk to soft boiled eggs

Imagine you work in an office. You have been working there for about six months now, all is going well, you like the people around you, you know where everything is and who to ask for help. One morning you come in, and the key you used to open the door doesn’t work. Someone walks past and hands you a card, without a word, smiles and walks away. Ok, this card is different to any you have used before, how do you get it to work? You try and try, someone finally walks behind you, quickly does the trick for you and lets you in. You notice the office looks different, things are all in the wrong places. And someone was definitely playing with your chair! How can you work like this?! You look around, but nobody seems fussed, everyone is smiling at you, even though you have no idea what is going on.

What does this have to do with weaning?

Weaning is a change from something familiar, something your baby is used to, comfortable with, and ‘knows how it works’. Weaning is a big transition, it is a big step and a moment when everything changes – from the comfortable, familiar feeding sessions, it’s all new and different. How?

Spoon?

Whether until now you have been bottle- or breastfeeding your baby, introducing a spoon is a very different thing. Your baby has no idea what it is, why it should go anywhere near his mouth, and what you want to do with it. Imagine you are blindfolded and someone is feeding you something with a weird stick. Spoons are a normal thing in our household, we don’t think about them anymore – and why should we? But it’s something our babies have never used, seen, and it is to go in their mouth – it’s pretty intimate.

And that thing that is on the spoon? What is that?? Where is my warm, yummy milk?

Food?

It’s different consistency. Different taste. Different texture. Different color. Probably also different temperature. It is as big a change, as it can be. Again, try and remember when you are invited somewhere and you end up being offered something that looks like nothing you’d ever eaten. If you have travelled a lot, it probably happens all too often – how do you react? What is your first thought?

When we were travelling I often got offered food that looked like nothing I had ever seen. My first thought often was – I hope it’s not made of insects. I can assure you, I had to work really hard on keeping a straight face more than once when I saw what landed on my plate, or banana leaf. It takes time and a lot of courage – at least for me – to let something so unfamiliar end up in my mouth. It came back to me when we were feeding Antek in the first months – once I remembered that feeling, it was easier to give him all the time he needed to open his mouth and let us feed him. (Anna)

Position?

Until now, your baby was comfortably cradled in your arms while nursing, with the possibility of close body and eye contact. How can we keep this from changing too much, when we move on to the next stage?

Emmi Pikler and Magda Gerber advocated for no high chairs. One of the reasons for not using high chairs is that often we start weaning before babies can sit up by themselves – we need to then put them in a position into which their bodies cannot yet get naturally. Another one being that babies will not be able to get in and out of high chairs by themselves, even as they grow older. It might be exactly the tempting thought of that, that makes parents go for it. But do you really want to tie your child to their seat with food in front of them? (We had a high chair in the beginning, and moving Antek to our lap after a while made us aware of how much more intimate and enjoyable the feeding was. He was close to one of us, even when the food was somewhat strange the body contact helped him relax and feel a bit more at ease with the whole situation. Anna)

Of course it’s impossible to keep your baby in the same position that you did while breast- or bottle-feeding, but there are a few differences between the cuddled arm position and the high chair.

Everything really is different when we start the weaning process. Change is something we need to get used to, something we need to tame so that we can work with the new conditions and new expectations. New passages have to form in our brain (that takes time), and we need to develop new habits – this, as we all know too well, takes a lot of time. How can you help?

Here is Emmi Pikler’s way to baby-led weaning

Emmi Pikler intensely focused on all the different changes that come along when weaning your baby, and she suggested that there should always be just ONE change at a time. So when moving from breast/bottle milk to spoon-fed solids there were many little steps in between.

Those include:

  • Offering milk or tea in a glass instead of bottle or breast;
  • Once the child is used to the glass she would also offer first mashed vegetables from a glass (a little more on the liquid side obviously);
  • Only when the child is used to glass AND the new taste and consistency of food would she introduce the spoon;
  • And once the spoon is a well-known companion, the food would get more solid, the position of feeding would slowly change to be a little more upright;
  • Once the child is used to the new food, the spoon and the position he would be placed on a little chair and by a small table (by then his motor development would allow this)

In terms of positioning the baby when offering solid foods Emmi Pikler suggested a slow transition process too. From the arms of the caregiver the children would move to a half-seating position on the lap. And then, once they were (i) able to sit up by themselves, and (ii) used to something other than breast or bottle, would she allow placing them at a little table. The chair was matched for size, so the child could get on and off by himself.

When I first saw this little table – apart from finding it lovely and cute – I thought – I don‘t want my child to sit in there while I have dinner with my husband at our table. It felt like leaving him all one. Little did I know that at an age where a child is sitting at a table that small there is no common family meal. There is no „having dinner together“. 

We didn‘t buy this table but got a high chair that he could climb up himself (obviously much, much later). Only after a few months and „disturbed“ meals where I had to take care of him and go back to feeding him on my lap instead of us all just enjoying a meal together I realised that children not only take food at meal times. They take our attention. It‘s nourishment for the body as well as for the soul. (Nadine)

Pikler‘s thought was the same as with the diaper changes – when a child has had our undivided attention and full presence during those feeding times, he would be able to engage in play on his own while we – the parents – enjoy our meal together.

This sounds like a lot of work. Much to think through before starting with solids. And a long walk from breast- or bottle feeding to the meal at the family table. But in the end – this is what it is. A long journey. A big transition. From being closely cuddled up with just mom or dad while enjoying some warm milk – to sitting at a table with plates and cutlery, a variety of foods and the constant inner question of being full or not.

„Family meals are very, very rarely pleasurable when babies are included. Not only do babies not have any table manners, they need constant attention, create a mess, and I cannot see why such a tense atmosphere is desirable.

I prefer that the parent feed the baby ahead of time (and maybe even for the baby to be in bed) by the time the parents enjoy a well-deserved, peaceful meal. When children can participate in table conversations, they are ready to join the family at the table.“ (Magda Gerber „Dear parent: Caring for infants with respect“)

This may seem very „old fashioned“ to many of you as it did to us too. Now that our boys are 2,5 years old, can mainly eat by themselves and talk (sometimes A LOT), those family meals are finally becoming pleasurable and fun.

But I have to admit that until a few weeks ago it was rather stressful – to have the meal ready on time otherwise Leander would be impatient, 

  • to constantly have to check if he is eating or throwing the food
  • to have him change places (his chair, my lap, my husband‘s lap)
  • to not have a conversation or simply being able to EAT. (Nadine)

During those many parent evenings Nadine attended in the past two years, and the number of talks Anna has had with other parents, feeding and mealtimes were a constant topic for many parents. Most of it has to do with our expectations, our own experiences as a child and our impatience.

We are not denying that there may be problems and not all babies are happy to accept this whole transition at the moment we think is right. And not all babies accept the food we offer straight away. Or the spoon. Or the change in position. But what we are trying to offer here is a little food for thought. So we can understand our babies and lead and accompany them through the whole process mindfully and respectfully. To set a strong foundation for all those future mealtimes that are still to come when our children grow older.

“‘When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,’ said Piglet at last, ‘what’s the first thing you say to yourself?’ ‘What’s for breakfast?’ said Pooh. ‘What do you say, Piglet?’ ‘I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?’ said Piglet. Pooh nodded thoughtfully. ‘It’s the same thing,’ he said.”

The beginning of weaning: guilt, pleasure and information overload

Sometimes the internet does not seem the perfect invention when being a parent. There are too many decisions that have to come from within you and your family. Starting the weaning process is one of them. There is the when, what and how. And many many more questions you surely did not think of before giving birth to your little baby.

And then there is us – mothers – with our own thoughts, feelings, fears and worries, that emerge every time we face a new phase, a new challenge, a new step ahead. Weaning is just another one of them.

(This is the first of a three-part series on weaning and feeding small children in their early days of adventures with eating. Please let us know what you think, and if there is anything else you would like us to focus on in the two (or more?) posts that will follow)

Both of us mostly breastfed our boys, but regardless of what decision you made in the first months, there comes the day – dreaded or long-awaited – when milk is not the main meal anymore, and when the time comes to move on to something else. There is a moment when you start thinking about it for the first time, and you realize (perhaps) that the number of questions you had in mind is nothing compared to the number of possible answers, and the amount of information about everything that is to do with weaning: when to start? what to give? how often? cow’s milk? gluten? fruit or vegatables? iron supplements?

The old-school version (at least how we know it) said wait until 6 months, then slowly start with one small meal a day and see how it goes. This, as far as we’re concerned, is about enough to know about weaning (if your baby is healthy and does not have any allergies). But, unfortunately, both of us also love the question and answer game. And finding information. More often than not, it is useful, good, and once you get the hang of where to look you’re fine. But that, very often, is not a calm and collected way in which new mums look for information, especially not online. Ask your doctor, if you have one, or a nurse. Aks your friends. Look fort he information you need once. And then just move on – you have what it takes. And you have all you need.

So of course, there is the 6 months mark. But then there are new studies coming in. And of course there is also Annabel Karmel or any other influential celebrity of choice.

When Leander was about 3-4 months old a new study was published that suggested to start weaning at the age of 4 months already in order to avoid the risk of allergies. Before that all I heard was that breast- or bottlefeeding until the age of 6 months would be best for the child. Mothers. Pediatricians. Midwifes. And everybody else who thought to know all about it led long and painful discussions about what is best for a little baby‘s long term health.

It was dreadful to read or listen. But something told me that neither nor can be stated as right or wrong. It‘s a decision you as parents and your baby have to make privately. Whatever advice you want to keep in mind. So I decided to see how the breastfeeding went and how his interest in food would develop. (Nadine)

What we tend to forget is – every child is different. When we speak about gross motor development or play this all seems logical to us. But why should it be different when it comes to food? So how can we listen to a university professor who wants to tell us that we should do it this way or that? And the pediatrician, who looks at hundreds of little kids in a week, how could he know that our child is ready? Or not?
It is dificult to know when your baby is ready, the overall general guidelines are helpful. But YOU are the one who knows your child. And also YOU are the one who knows yourself. Weaning is the beginning of another part of the journey. For some of us it is easy, for some it comes with a feeling of loss and fear. The most important thing we learnt – trust yourself, and remember you are weaning your baby but also… yourself. Give it time.

The simplest, easiest advice we can offer, based on what we learnt with our sons is this:

When?

  • Roughly around the time when most of the health guidelines suggest, but don’t be too strict – every baby is different, it does not have to be on the day your baby turns 6 months.

What?

  • Easy food. Easy fort hem to digest and for you to prepare. Milk is easy. Whatever comes next will be different. Don’t give them anything you would not eat (I remember a friend of mine repeatedly giving her daughter mashed apples with green peas. ‚She won’t eat anything’ the friend complained. When I asked i fit tastes nice, she replied: ‚I’m sure it’s fine, I don’t really want to eat this’ – Anna)
  • Try to give a range of choices after a while, once you know they are used to the taste (and there are no allergic reactions). Try not to suggest what is good and what is not, even without words your baby is fully aware of how you feel about things (if you really hate something, maybe skip it for a while?)
  • Don’t prepare a feast only to later be disappointed that your baby is not keen to try the new wonderful thing you have so lovingly prepared. Leave the amazing dishes for later, when she is so used to the taste of your kitchen she will really really appreciate it. Put the time into being with her, rather than in the kitchen. Make it simple – for you and for her.

How often?

  • Once a day, small portions.

How?

  • Explain first. Maybe a day or two before you think you might start with the first meal. Tell your baby what will happen. Communicate. Show them the spoon, maybe the food. Next time, it won’t all be new and unfamiliar – making things familiar is a very important part of any change. Remember, you would want to know why the desk in your office looks different, and what happend to the coffee machine?
  • Slowly. Very very slowly and patiently – it is a big change, allow it to happen rather than rush through it. Every day is different – one day mashed carrots will be great, the next they will be on the floor. That’s fine, don’t take it personally. It’s not about you, or the carrots. Leave them and next time try something else. Allow your baby to try somehting more than once so they can get used to the taste. But also – allow them to decide they don’t want something. Surely there are things you don’t like to eat.
  • With a full understanding how difficult this might be, and no expectations of what will happen. It is a big change, but you are there to help him. This is another step you are taking together – both of you. It can be another wonderful adventure, another step in developing your relationship. Food is important, breast or bottle-feeding is important, so is weaning. This is the continuation of the relationship with food – they will learn now how to think about food, and this will set them up for life. The trust in your child that he can do this on his own time, will later pay back with his trust in you. That you will be there when he needs you, but also that you will let him take as much time as he needs. Be respectful of your child by letting her lead the weaning process. Observe to see how she feels about it’ (Magda Gerber)
  • With patience. This is never said enough. With enough patience, so that you are not waiting for another step – enjoy this moment, enjoy the here and now. The moment you are showing your baby what food is. Soon enough they won’t need your explanations. The most difficult part for me was realising that the beginning of weaning does not automatically mean we can bring out the knives and forks, our best plates and carefully prepared meals – That it is a long, long way between this first taste of food, and the time when my son will enjoy his meals knowing full well what he likes and what he doesn’t. When we started giving him food, and when he tried to eat it the first day, I was almost ready to prepare a feast the next. Of course, the next day no food went anywhere near his mouth… One of the hardest things for both my husband and me was not to take this personally. The food is good. It’s healthy. This whole process is so new to him, that we had to just let him do it, so that finally he could enjoy it – in his own time, not on our schedule. It is paying off now, when we see him willing to try new foods at two-and-a-half, happy to experiment with a fork, asking for more when he is not yet full, and giving the bowl back when he’s had enough. Letting him learn the relationship with food on his own terms has definitely paid off – but those first months were a true test of patience. (Anna)
  • With a lot of love also for yourself. Giving up those precious moments when you snuggle together for feeding might be hard for some. Not for everybody, but a lot of us have felt this tiny tiny sadness that this is the beginning of the end of something, and there is no going back ( http://sydneysteiner.com/2012/07/01/let-him-live-his-life-a-weaning-story-of-loss-and-separation/ ). There are many moments like this along the way. Admit that you’re sad, or whatever feelings you have. All those feelings are fine. Admit, so that you can move on. We have felt it. Both in the beginning of weaning and in the end – the last moments, when you know these are the last breast- or bottle-moments for the two of you. Cry. Buy yourself chocolate. Go for a walk. Admit to whatever you’re feeling (guilt, sadness, relief – it’s all normal, natural, and it’s so good that you have these feelings, you are a wonderfully emotional human being!), and get ready for the rest of the big adventure. But also – listen to yourself and your baby. If it‘s too hard for both of you – slow down. Starting the weaning process, starting to eat solid foods does not mean there is a deadline to be met to stop bottle- or breastfeeding. Give both of you the time you need. May it be months or even years.

Maybe one of the problems we see with weaning or starting solids is the wording. In the English speaknig world it all relates to weaning your baby. Stopping the milk supply no matter if breast or bottle have been given. In the German speaking world it‘s called „starting solid food“ so it‘s all about your child finally eating instead of drinking.
What if we call it a big transistion in your child‘s life? Where the aim is to make it as smooth and comfortable as possible. Not to replace morning, lunch or evening feeding session. Not to eat at the family table. But to go with the flow of nature, that milk at some point might not be enough, that interest in solid food grows and the path is a process. No handbook available. Only then can we go back to our inner feeling, observing our child and realising what he needs most right now.

We should not forget – food is about relationship as well. The relationship with our own body. While eating we try to constantly listen to myself. Am I enjoying this taste? Is it too cold or too hot? Am I still hungry? We as adults have almost forgotten to eat like that. Our children haven‘t. This is a huge gift we can give them – the ability to listen to their bodies when eating. To Stop when they’re full, say no when they’ve had enough (surely we all want our babies to be able to do that once they’ve grown up).

So when accompanying them during this big transition – there are more things to keep in mind than when and what. There is how and how much. And many many nuances in between.

 

Is there anything you found particularly difficult when you started the weaning process? Or particularly helpful? Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

Talk to me

In our series of posts on respectful parenting we would like to continue with a post about communication. Communication with the infant from birth until the age of 6 months. An age where the language and speech development is not first priority. But an age where communication, information and familiar voices are essential for the baby‘s feeling of security, safety and trust.

(We are not going to talk about the development of speech. This is simply a post about the early communication with your baby.)

Why is communicating so important for a baby? He can‘t respond anyway. Or can he?

We do nowadays know a lot about baby‘s ability to already hear and feel while still in utero. Therefore many parents take the chance to read stories to their unborn child, talk to him or sing. And they continue doing this once the baby is born. Which is great and necessary. But there is a little more (or in fact: much more) that can (should!) be done when raising a child lovingly and respectfully. While a lot of people talk to their babies before they are born, it is interesting that this direct communication often stops when the baby is born. Why? It might be strange in the beginning to talk to a tiny infant, who does not respond with words. We might find it awkward. We might need time to get used to it.

We know that babies can hear us, what we don’t really know is how much they understand and when this understanding begins. And the choice we are making is this: do we assume they do, or at some point will understand us and therefore communicate with them from the start, or do we choose to assume that they don’t understand in the beginning and therefore we do not need to communicate with them directly.

We believe the ground for building respectful communication begins at birth. Because babies do respond. They do communicate with us. We just have to be careful, observing and patient (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/great-kids-great-parents/201201/children-talk-they-understand-lot). Read their signs and in return – respond to them again. It might not be obvious at first, but with time you will learn to read his signs, and see how hard he is trying to understand yours. He is trying hard to communicate with us – first through crying, facial expressions, movement. It is much harder for him to communicate his feelings than it is for you. But he is trying, looking for new ways to tell you what is going on.

Our first talks with Antek happened over diaper changes – most likely this is true for a lot of parents. I tried very slowly telling hime what will happen. I stopped and waited. I waited for the response. It felt like waiting for something that might never come, but over time it became second nature – I said what I would do and stopped for a moment. Once I got used to it, I stopped waiting for the response to actually happen, I just gave him time and moved on. He was about four months old when I realized he was listening very carefully and started trying to cooperate with me. It was an amazing discovery to see this. „I will lift you up now“ I would say, and his whole body would suddenly tense in my arms. He understood what was about to happen. This was the beginning of our dialogues. (Anna)

When a baby is born he is thrown into a world full of sounds, smells and all sorts of senses he can‘t possibly handle all by himself. So it‘s important to not just limit the stimuli but also explain what is just happening. And why. Especially in those situations where a lot is happening. For example during diaper changes or bathing times which – in the world of a newborn – are very active moments. And no – we are not saying that a newborn will understand every word you are saying. He will not know exactly what you mean by „I‘m going to pick you up to change you‘re diaper now.“ or „You have just been asleep and now you are hungry. I will feed you now.“ But he will realise the sound of those sentences, the voice of the mother which is familiar from the uterus.

Imagine watching a couple of people talking in a different language you don‘t understand. You will still be able to make out if they are being friendly or if they are arguing. You can watch their body language and faces and make out if friends or strangers have just met.

This is exactly what your baby is doing too. He watches you and closely listens to what you are saying, how you are saying it. And he will try hard to respond. May it be screaming, giggling, later smiling or fighting with all his body movements. The earlier we talk to our children and do what they are doing – closely listen and observe – the earlier we will understand every response we are getting. Even those we didn‘t know existed. So again – careful observation is the key. The key for a close relationship but also the key to a child that feels safe and secure in this world.

How do I talk to an infant ?

I do admit that in the beginning, right after Leander was born, it felt strange to talk to him, tell him everything I would be doing. In the end he WAS this little person who just didn‘t seem to hear me or understand me. But I was so curious, I heard so much about Pikler and the importance of communication – I tried to talk more and more. And while I was explaining what was going on, what was going to happen, the more I felt an You and Me becoming a We. It wasn‘t just about him getting to know me and the world around him. It was about me getting to know HIM too. I kept stretching the diaper changes, kept talking to him. And slowly he started responding to me. 

But that wasn‘t it. While I startled with my first „talks“ I also realised how unorganized I was. I kept looking for things while I actually wanted to stay focused on him. I held my left arm on his belly while my right one crossed underneath his legs to find a diaper in the depths of the changing table. And I had trouble explaining this and that  way I figured that I needed to change these situations. This is how I got organized and we developed OUR routine. Not mine. Not his. We grew together. (Nadine)

When babies are small they are trying to make sense of the world, like we are trying to make sense of them. Our explanations, our voice, our tone are all soothing and are all important parts of their daily life. And as much as they want to be a part of our lives, we want to be a part of theirs. If we communicate with babies, it is important to try and talk about things that are relevant to them at that moment – remember babies live in the here and now.

So how can we build this sensitive, respectful way of communicating?

  • Talk during care moments: it creates a unique atmosphere and might turn a mundane task into a wonderful dialogue involving words and bodies. Be slow and patient. Inform your baby of what is about to happen or what you are about to do. Imagine yourself in that position for a moment – that you are fully dependant on someone else, that you are in their care. Imagine even that they are speaking a language you don’t understand. Wouldn’t it be more comfortable for you if they tried communicating with you nonetheless? If they informed you before taking your clothes off, or putting them on? Before touching you?
  • Wait for a response. Don’t expect one, but just give time. Stay close. After a question or sentence – stop. Watch the response. If there is one – narrate it: „Oh I see you are really upset. You must be very uncomfortable. I‘ll change you right away.“ But it‘s not always about getting a response – it‘s about having the opportunity to give one. Or not. This time is not only important for a response to happen, but for the baby to process what you have signalled – remember it takes them much more time to process information, even when they are slightly older (http://networkedblogs.com/zXFvE) . Allow it if you can. And if you are in a hurry – acknowledge that you cannot give him time right now, but next time you will.
  • Allow the dialogue to happen. When you start communicating in this way – talking about things that are directly relevant to the baby and giving time for a response (or time to process) – your baby is learning what the words you are using mean, but also turn-taking (http://www.janetlansbury.com/2011/03/10-secrets-to-raising-good-listeners/) . She is learning about communication with another person, and is learning to listen to you and to talk to you. She knows this already from birth – studies have shown that humans are the only mammals that suck in a rhythmical way, and that this rhythm is created by the mothers and babies together while feeding. This is the first sign of communication.
  • Check what your baby is interested in and talk about it. It might be her foot, the sun (or rain) outside, it might be something you did that has drawn her attention. She wants to know the world, and you have the power to explain it to her! Isn’t that magical? When you do that, your baby is getting a very powerful (and empowering) message: You are important to me, so whatever is important to you is important to me as well.
  • Talk to babies directly, not over their heads or about them as if they were not there – even though it’s a common culturally accepted practice, it is not kind or respectful. Practice that from the very beginning and it will become easier over time. Also very young babies listen, even when we are talking to others and not to them – you would not talk about your husband, wife, or friend that way, and probably would not like if someone did that to you. They might seem focused in their play, but their ears might be with us. Remeber too, that your baby is not only learning words and their meaning, but also the power they have.
  • Say what you want to say, not less but not more. Don’t let communication become background noise. Babies have a lot to process, they are interested in the world, but it is all new and difficult for them. Talk about things that are relevant, not about everything and all the time. When you do this, it is hard for the baby to follow, and eventually she might tune you out. Your voice is important. Keep it that way.
  • Be authentic. Be yourself. When your child is asking for you for the 7th time and you are tired and exhausted – don‘t be all happy and pretend that‘s ok. It‘s not. You need sleep too and there is a way between being falsely happy and madly angry. Just let her know you are tired. When you are sad or in a bad mood- that‘s ok. Children have a fine sense for emotions. They feel how you feel sometimes before you do. So if you then speak to her in a pretend happy voice she will get well confused. And might demand you a little more. Because she really wants to know what is going on with you. Right now. In being honest she will not only understand you better – she will also be able to put her own emotions into words some day. And on top of that – she will feel trusted because you are open and clear. Another big stone in the foundation of a mutually respectful relationship.

Good for them, good for us

Although it might feel awkward and strange in the beginning, there are a number of important things you are giving your baby if you communicate with him directly and respectfully from the beginning. But it is also helpful for us as parents – we have found that talking during care moments makes us slow down and focus more than without talking. It makes us be fully there for our babies, giving them the undivided attention (http://www.magdagerber.org/vol-i-no-2-spring-1980.html) that will later allow them to play freely.

Especially during routine situations (bathing, dressing, changing diapers) talking to our babies allowed us to focus on what we were doing and really see our sons and their first attempts at communication. During those familiar moments it is easy to tune out and do things automatically – talking to our babies helps us be fully there.

Have you found it easy or difficult to talk to your infant directly? Have you noticed their attempts to communicate or answer before the words came?

We would love to hear your thoughts!