by Jackie Bartlett
I am a very squeamish person, especially around bodily fluids (When I scoop the cat litter, I usually gag and sometimes actually barf). Before I started Baby School, I thought I would view diaper changes as a necessary and disgusting part of my job. Now, they are one of my favorite parts of my job. I still don't enjoy the smell of a full diaper, but it is a minor inconvenience when compared with the joy of experiencing a child's sense of self-respect and competence. There are so many ways a child can participate in the task. They can hold the fresh diaper, lift their bottoms, hold up the diaper front. The child often laughs, stretches, and coos while they engage with you and the job itself.
Photo by flicker.com/photos/mister_tee/
The key is to ask for help and wait. Then, wait some more. Yes, it is quicker to do the job yourself and not wait for your child to raise his legs a couple of inches when you're going to have to lift his legs anyway to get his butt high enough to clean off, but think about what you are teaching. Your child is ALWAYS learning from you; the question is what they are learning. During a diaper change, you have a choice to do TO your child or do WITH your child. If you go the quick route, maybe giving the child a toy to hold while you wrangle their lower body, you are telling your child that their help is not needed, that caring for your child's body is your job, and they have no role in the care of their own body. If you go the long way, asking for help as you go and waiting, waiting, waiting, you show your child HOW to care for their own body. Your child learns that you want to spend time with them--time when you are not distracted.
Essentially, you show your child your love. For me, what transforms these times from a dreaded chore to a pleasure is that the children show me their love, too. In the banal tasks of care giving we are consistently offered an opportunity to celebrate achievement, to give the gift of time, and to experience mutual love.
by Jackie Bartlett
I figured all parents did that. Fathers throw their children into the air.
Last weekend I attended the RIE conference in LA at the Skirball Center. I had a full day of the nuances of RIE--how can we know what babies are saying when they can't use words to tell us? What are the practical considerations of observing children closely, learning who they are and what they need? I had seen some amazing footage of very young children exploring their environments through slow methodical play, making connections between similar objects in their environment. The sensitivity of caregivers to the needs of preverbal children was inspiring.
We all had had a full day and were taking a much needed coffee break and discussing the speakers and workshops. Suddenly, some movement across the terrace caught our attention. A visitor to the adjoining museum was throwing a toddler into the air and catching him repeatedly. The toddler's face was pointed at us. He had a look of resignation and uneasiness. The father (I'm assuming the man was the child's father) was laughing. His friends were standing near. It seemed to be over, but the father suddenly threw the child at the friends, stopping short and pulling the child back to him. The friends laughed. The contrast between what we had seen all morning and the inconsiderate way the father treated his child was stark and gut-wrenching. I could feel the eyes of the other attendees on the man and his son and the simultaneous short intake of breath as we all had the same basic reaction. I wondered if the incident reminded the other witnesses of this quote from Your Self-Confident Baby (Gerber, M & Johnson, A. 2012. Wiley.):
I remember attending a RIE class one day when Raquel was about six or eight months old. When class was over, I picked her up and playfully held her up over my head, wagging her around. She smiled, probably because she was used to it, and maybe because I liked doing it so much. I remember [Magda] saying, "Would you like someone to do that to you?" I had never though she might not like what I did to her. I figured all parents did that. Fathers throw their children into the air. That moment changed the way I parent. I became much more conscious of what I did to, or with, my children.
I don't believe rough play is always bad. Maybe Magda Gerber didn't either; she asked the RIE class father a question, rather than making a statement. Random rough play, however, sends children conflicting messages: This is a person who protects me from harm and provides for my needs, and this is a person who throws me into the air, making me insecure without a moment's notice. How confusing! If we wait until children are mobile and they initiate the rough play according to their own level of comfort, they get to play with danger and power while still being in control. When we, as adults, seek the thrills of roller coasters, motorcycles, or sky-diving, we are choosing those thrills. I don't think anyone would enjoy being taken by surprise by suddenly being pushed out of a plane while being told that he likes it. That is what we do to children when we throw them into the air without permission.
There is another element to this kind of rough play that is more covert even than not paying attention to your child's wishes. This play is often something that fathers do with sons. The message is that this is what men do; they play rough. If you don't like it, hide your feelings. In the incident at the conference, this message was reinforced when the father's friends (also male) laughed along with the father as the child was tossed about. Obviously, I don't know these people. I seriously doubt that the dad was actively trying to suppress his child's feelings while terrorizing him into conforming to stereotypes of Maleness. He was probably just trying to have a little fun with his kid. I am suggesting that we all look at "fun" from the child's point of view and actually ask our children if they like the game, too.
After my initial shock and revulsion, I laughed. I couldn't believe the father's luck. He couldn't have ignored his child's cues in a worse place, as 200 eyes looked upon him with the same disapproval.
by Jackie Bartlett
Last week I had a conversation with my mentor and colleague, and the subject turned to development. He said that development doesn't happen at a steady pace. Children develop for a while, then plateau until the next spurt. I was thinking about my own experiences watching children develop. The babies seem to have major developmental spikes all at once. It's like one day they are relatively immobile and the next they are movers. It's more than that, though. The fine motor skills seem to develop at the same time. Baby E reversed her rolling from belly to back, started using a pincer grip (thumb and forefinger) to grasp things, and made new vocal sounds all in the same day. It was mind blowing to see. Baby S has begun to roll from back to belly while also developing the ability to grasp objects and direct them with his arm and hands (we played a fun ball rolling game that he invented with his new skill).
Thinking about my own life, it seems that development as an adult happens all at once, too (though much less often than it does for babies). Things will be relatively stable and something will happen to change the way I see the world. I will struggle, and in the struggle I will find I am capable of developing new skills--a bunch all at once.
I am reminded of a Magda Gerber quote: "All children accomplish milestones in their own way, in their own time." I am noticing that often their own time is all at once.
by Jackie Bartlett
One of the philosophies that inspires work at the Baby School is Resources for Infant Educarers founded by Magda Gerber. For many educators working with young children, we understand how to present a respectful, child-led, play-based curriculum for preschoolers or even toddlers; but often when it comes to working with pre-verbal people, all of that goes out the window. That's where Magda steps in. Her approach starts from a foundation of respect. RIE is a nuanced approach that relies heavily on observation. That being said, Magda offered plenty of simple advice that we receive through her writing, videos, audio interviews, as well as through stories from friends and colleagues who continue her work since her death in 2007.
The easiest piece of Magda's advice to follow is to tell your child what you are going to do to him before you do it (e.g. I'm going to pick you up; I'm going to put you in your car seat; I'm going to put your arm in the sleeve, etc.). If you are very disciplined, you can move to the next level and wait for a reaction from Baby. If you do this consistently, you will notice small changes in your child's behavior during care giving times. Your child will help! He will move his head a bit before you reach down to pick him up; he will move his arm toward the shirtsleeve. I encourage you to try it out for a few days and see what happens. I think you will find that your child is more responsive and that you feel even more connected to this little person than you did before.
by Jackie Bartlett
I am way bigger than a baby. I try to always keep this in mind while working with infants. The one question I keep at the center of all of my interactions with babies in care is how would I like to be treated by a giant? Would I like to be picked up without notice? Would I like it if the giant's movements were too quick for me to follow? I would not, nor do I think many people would. The next time you are interacting with an infant, ask yourself how you would like to be treated if you were in their position and proceed accordingly.