As I read Educaring I get the feeling that the RIE philosophy is rather cold and impersonal. You talk of independence and autonomy for infants, but not of loving them. You emphasize the importance of speaking to babies, but not of holding them. You tell parents ways of feeding and bathing their infants, but you don't talk about playing with them.
Frankly, babies are dependent on adults, not only for food and shelter, but for love, emotional warmth and comfort too. Where do these needs fit into the RIE philosophy?
For years and years when talking to groups of parents, I asked them, "What do infants need beyond food, hygiene, etc?" The answer was unanimously, "Love." But what is love?
Rather than trying to explain or analyze "love" theoretically, I will share with you from my own subjective experiences how it feels to be loved, and how it feels to love.
It makes me feel good, it opens me up, it gives me strength. I feel less vulnerable, lonely, helpless, confused. I feel more honest, more rich. It fills me with hope, trust, creative energy. It refuels me and prepares me to face life.
How do I perceive the other person who gives me things? I see her as honest, as one who sees and accepts me for what I really am, who responds to me objectively without being critical. I respect her authenticity and values and she respects mine. She is one who is available when needed, who listens and hears, who looks and sees me, who genuinely shares herself.
In short, I perceive one who loves me, who gives me these feelings, as one who cares.
In no other loving connection is "caring" as crucial as in the parent/infant relationship. This relationship is, at first, a one-sided. It is the parent who is the giver; the child slowly learns to love. At the time when parental roles were more limited, parental love had been differentiated into two categories: maternal and paternal love. Maternal love was described as unconditional. The infant is loved because he or she is. Ideally, every human being should start life with this kind of love.
Paternal love has some strings attached. The father has expectations for the young child and love for "good" "expected" behavior. Many people cannot make the shift from being loved and fully accepted the way they are, to having to earn or deserve love. They insist on being loved while being obnoxious, pushing the parents to the limits of their tolerance. This state or fixation on total acceptance peaks around two and again in adolescence.
The grace period of maternal love lays down a foundation of self- acceptance. Paternal love is a bridge preparing a child to live in the real world, where he has to "deserve" love and appreciation. I see the value of both. I recommend that parents read The Art of Loving by Eric Fromm, who defines love as caring, respecting, assuming responsibility for, and acquiring knowledge about the other person.
To care is to put love into action. The way we care for our babies is then how they experience our love.
How and when do you pick your baby up? For instance, when you are in a hurry do you pick him up without warning or plop him down abruptly? Are you responding to the baby's needs or your own?
When do you smile at your baby? If your infant could express the bewilderment she feels when looking at her mother's smiling face while being propped in an uncomfortable position, it may sound like, "Mommy, why do you smile at me when I feel so uncomfortable?"
How do you talk to your infant? Do you tell him "I love you" just when you are at the end of your tolerance, when what you really feel is "I wish I never had a baby"? When what you say is inconsistent with what you feel, your baby receives a double message. Rather than feeling reassured of your love, he feels confused.
When do you choose to hug and kiss your child? Is it when you come home from a party and look at your peacefully sleeping child that you start touching and kissing her and wake her up? Although an act of love, this was serving your needs, not the baby's.
Do you tolerate your child's crying? It seems so much easier to do something about crying: to pick up, move around, take for a ride, pat, bounce. When the baby cries, the first step is to try to determine why he cries, rather than to try to stop the crying. When you have eliminated hunger and the other standard discomforts and the baby is still crying, that is the time to tolerate crying, even to respect the infant's right to cry. You might want to say, "I am here to help you, but I do not know what you need. Try to tell me." If that is what you feel, share it; this is the beginning of communication.
How do you set limits and restrain your child? Some parents are afraid that setting limits or disagreeing with a child will be perceived as unloving. Yet sometimes setting a limit is in the best interest of the child, and is therefore an act of love. Even though the child may be protesting, you know that what you are doing is for the child's sake. The most obvious example is the baby's car seat. Even when she objects to being strapped into it, you continue with the task because you know that it keeps her safe.
Do you allow your baby to experience some frustration? It is difficult for parents to learn that they cannot spare their children from all pain and frustration. Yet the only way anybody can develop frustration tolerance is by experiencing and directly dealing with it.
In what ways do you allow your infant to explore freely and to make choices? Superimposing your ideas of showing love may prevent an infant from making choices or engaging in exploration. For instance, do you hold your baby in your lap in such a way that he can leave when he is ready, or do you hold on to him? Wanting to hold a child can become holding the child back from free exploration, making him passive and over dependent. Showing love means being available rather than intrusive.
Do you tell your child how you really feel? How confusing for a child to have a parent who pretends to be the always loving, always cheerful person. If you learn to communicate how you are feeling (tired, peaceful, upset, joyful, angry, etc.) you become authentic and allow your child to grow up authentic.
Dear Parent, I agree that babies need love, emotional warmth and comfort. Most people associate parental love with the easy solutions of holding, nursing, cuddling. What is much more difficult is to find the balance between holding on and letting go. It is a lifelong struggle, and maybe the hardest part of parenting. Good luck and many rewards, Magda
© Magda Gerber Originally published in Educaring Vol VI No 1 Winter 1985
Educaring Vol I No 2 Spring 1980
As an infant advocate over several decades, I have witnessed many changes in attitudes towards infant care in general, and towards group care in particular. Until recently, the care of infants in this country has largely been the concern of the family and the family physician. Only in the last decade or two has the need for providing alternative care become increasingly apparent. In the fifties, group care of infants was non-existent and looked upon as potentially harmful. In the sixties, the pros and cons of group care were debated in an emotionally loaded atmosphere. In the seventies, an increasing number of infants spent six, eight, or more hours each weekday in group care. State and federal regulations, even when met, do not insure that the infants' needs are met, too.
In my work of consulting with a great variety of centers, I have found that while the people in charge of infant centers usually are well-meaning, child-loving people who want to do a decent job, this rarely is possible because of the low pay and status of the infant care-giver, poor, if any, pre and in-service training, very few model centers, inadequate facilities, constant change in personnel, and so forth.
Can any center meet the needs of infants under such difficult conditions? What are the infants' needs, beyond those for food, rest, warmth and hygiene? Most people would respond with the following: love, as demonstrated by rocking, fondling and body contact; and cognitive stimulation as demonstrated by an abundance of objects, teaching materials and lesson plans. These needs have become largely accepted and most centers try to meet them in different ways.
We who follow the R.I.E. philosophy have our own ways of meeting infants' needs. R.I.E. seeks to attain a balance between adult stimulation and independent exploration by the infant. We focus on two areas of the infant's life: the time spent with the adult who cares for the infant and the time the infant spends alone freely exploring his environment.
Only a child who receives undivided attention from his educarer during all routine care-giving activities will be free and interested to explore his environment without needing too much intervention on the part of the educarer. If the educarer understands that the infant needs both concentrated attention while being cared for and time to explore alone, she (he) also gains time for herself (himself).
In order to highlight the differences between the attitudes of a good/average care-giver and a trained educarer I will compare and contrast the two:
• Whereas a care-giver may rush through routine caring activities in order to get ready for the more valued time of following a curriculum, lesson plan, or providing some structured stimulation, the educarer uses the time that must be spent with the child anyway as a potential source of valued learning experience;
• Whereas many care-givers rely on infant curricula, books and packaged programs as prescriptions to teach, drill, and speed up new skills in the areas of gross motor, fine motor, social/emotional or language development, the educarer trusts the infants' abilities to initiate their own activities, choose from available objects, and work on their own projects without interruption;
• Whereas the care-giver teaches and encourages postures and means of locomotion which the infants are not yet able to do on their own, thus hampering free movement and exploration and sometimes even creating bodily discomfort, the educarer provides appropriate space for the infant to freely initiate his own movements without interference, thus helping the infant feel comfortable, competent and self-reliant;
• Whereas the care-giver's attention is focused on the elicited response to her stimulation, the educarer focuses upon observing the whole child, his reaction to the care-giving person, to the environment, and to his peers, thus learning about the child's personality and needs;
• Whereas the care-giver selects and puts objects/toys in the infants' hands, the educarer places the objects/toys so the infant must make an effort to reach and grasp. The child works towards what he wants;
• Whereas the care-giver encourages dependency by assuming an active role, such as rescuing a child in distress or helping him to solve his problems, the educarer waits to see if the child is capable of consoling himself and solving his own problems, thus encouraging autonomy;
• Whereas the care-giver may often use bottles and/or pacifiers to soothe a crying child, creating a false oral need for food and sucking, the educarer accepts the child's right to show both positive and negative feelings. The educarer does not want to stop the crying, but rather he/she tries to understand and attend to the child's real needs such as sleeplessness, hunger or cold. If the infant soothes himself by sucking his thumb, the educarer accepts this as a positive self-comforting activity;
• Whereas the care-giver often restricts infant-infant interaction, such as infants touching each other, for fear of them hurting each other, the educarer facilitates interactions by closely observing in order to know when to intervene and when not to;
• Whereas, in a situation of conflict between infants, the care-giver resolves the problem by separating, distracting, or deciding who should have the toy or object in question, the educarer would comment "Both you, John, and you, Anne, want that toy." Often, after such impartial comments, minor conflicts resolve themselves;
• Whereas the care-giver may become aggressive in controlling an "aggressor," thereby reinforcing the aggressive behavior, the educarer models appropriate behavior by touching the aggressive child and quietly saying something like, "Easy, gentle . . . nice."
• Whereas the care-giver may rush to pick up, to rescue and to console the "victim" of the"aggressor", the educarer squats down, touches and strokes the "victim," saying "Gently now, nice." By concurrently stroking and talking to both the "victim" and the "aggressor," the educarer is modeling and consoling both children without reinforcing a pattern of becoming a "victim";
• Whereas the care-giver likes to have more people or helpers in the room, the educarer wants to become the steady person to her own small group of about four infants;
• Whereas the care-giver gets exhausted from picking up one crying child and putting down another, as if extinguishing one fire after another, the educarer calmly observes and can often prevent the "fire";
• Whereas the care-giver may scoop up an infant unexpectedly from behind, thereby startling, interrupting and creating resistance in the infant, the educarer always tells the infant before she does anything with him or her and thus gains cooperation.
All of these examples try to illustrate that while both the care-giver and the educarer love the infant, the educarer demonstrates love by showing and teaching respect. Magda Gerber All photos courtesy of, and copyright David Vigliotti
It is becoming more and more difficult to put Alison, my seven-month-old, to sleep. I have always nursed her to sleep, but now she wakes up crying as soon as I put her down, or shortly thereafter. I have tried putting her down later and later in the evening, thinking she was not sleepy, but this did not help. Now, neither Alison nor I get enough sleep. Help! Tired Parent
I'll try. But do not expect a magic formula; sometimes we cannot isolate any one problem area from the rest of the everyday life of your baby.
I know that the easiest way to put your baby to sleep is to nurse her into sleep. I have observed, however, that as an infant becomes more aware of herself and of her environment, it is better to put her down while she is still somewhat awake. It is possible that waking up in a crib with no memory of having been put there can be disorienting and scary. Babies younger than Alison may wake up confused because of the sudden change in their sensitive vestibular organization, (i.e. going from a more upright position to lying flat in the crib).
Rather than putting Alison down later and later, I suggest that you sensitively observe the very first signs of tiredness. That is the time a child is ready for sleep. As time goes by, increased tiredness builds resistance — and once the second wind hits, going to sleep becomes an ordeal for both your baby and you. An overtired child sleeps restlessly, wakes up more often during the night and gets up grouchy, way too early in the morning. Stress and overstimulation can also cause exhaustion, irritability and resistance to sleep.
Many parents I have advised have learned with surprise and delight that contrary to their fears, putting babies to bed very early in the evening did not make them wake up earlier in the morning. Indeed, their babies often woke up much later in the morning, adding hours of sleep.
Your goal is to develop good sleeping habits. The easiest way to develop good habits in general is to have a predictable daily life. Young babies thrive on routine. Ideally, daily events of eating, sleeping, bathing, outdoor play, etc., happen around the same time and in the same sequence each day. As the baby is learning to anticipate the next event, many conflicts are eliminated. A mutual adaptation of the biological rhythm of your baby and your family schedule develops. It also enables you, the parent, to plan ahead for those blocks of rime when your baby is usually napping or playing peacefully.
But be prepared that there will be times when a child becomes reluctant to fall asleep, e.g. when she comes down with a sickness, shortly before a spurt of new developmental milestones, or during certain vulnerable times of emotional growth, such as separation anxiety. Your 7-month-old Alison is at a sensitive period for separation anxiety.
Both the amount and the pattern of sleep change from child to child and of course change as a baby grows. Newborn and very young babies alternate periods of sleep with periods of wakefulness six to ten times within 24 hours, with an average of 18 to 21 hours of sleep; two to three-year-olds average 12-14 hours of sleep.
Everything that happens to your baby during the day can influence her sleep pattern. Does she spend plenty of time playing outdoors? Building a room-size outdoor playpen is an excellent investment Napping outdoors is a good habit.
I want to talk a little about how to put a baby to bed. As bedtime approaches, create an atmosphere that be comes progressively slower paced and more quiet Do you happen to know the lovely book by Margaret Wise Brown, Good Night Moon, in which page by page the room darkens, gradually evoking a sleepy mood? This is the feeling I suggest you work toward.
Repeating a simple pre-bedtime ritual helps your baby to get ready gradually. For example, making a habit of commenting while putting away toys can be helpful: "The ball goes into this basket here in the comer; dolly sits on the top shelf; the toys will stay here until morning when you can play with them again." Such comments build a bridge between 'tonight' and 'tomorrow,' and provide a sense of continuity and security. Then you may continue, "I am going to pull the curtains now, then I will turn off the big light and put on the night light then I will go into the other room." As Alison grows older, she may take over your role and have such monologues herself.
Some infants have a special bed companion, a 'lovey' such as a Teddy bear or blanket also referred to as a transitional object. Putting Alison and her lovey to bed, you may talk to the bear, "Have a peaceful rest I will cover both Alison and you so that the two of you will feel comfortable and cozy. Are you ready for your lullaby?" (You may want to sing or wind up a music box — music is a soothing way to end a day.)
Finally, caress your baby gently and say, "Good night I'll see you in the morning."
As you can see, I am giving you ideas of how you can create an atmosphere conducive to rest. But remember nobody can make another person fall asleep, (short of giving sleeping pills). How to relax and let sleep come is a skill Alison, like everybody else, must learn all by herself. Children also wake up several times during the night and learn how to ease themselves back into sleep, (unless they have a need, or get scared).
Your overall attitude can make a difference. Do not feel sorry for "poor baby" who must go to bed — rather remember how good it feels to rest when you are tired, and how nice it feels to wake up refreshed.
Wishing you peaceful nights and joyful days in 1984.
Ed note: We have followed these guidelines with Nathan from his earliest days, and he now knows when he needs sleep, and that it feels good to sleep when he is tired. The other day, he came into the kitchen after his rest, hugged me and said, "Mommy, I had a wonderful nap."
(Originally published in Educaring Vol V No 1 Winter 1984)
Given that sleep is a learned skill, and "you can lead a baby to bed, but you can't make him sleep" (Lisa Sunbury), what can a parent do to support a child to develop good sleep habits? Magda wrote this letter in response to a parent in 1984. We are republishing it today in response to a recent post validating the importance of helping infants and young children to get the sleep they need, and a subsequent reader comment/question asking for suggestions for how to help babies develop good sleep habits in a respectful way that includes them in the process.
"Parents are intimidated by a cultural pressure which says, don't leave the child for any time or he may develop emotional problems. The mother feels she must be there to stimulate, touch, and cuddle."
"But, it's the quality of the mothering that's important, not the quantity."
"Nobody can give both for three years - always giving without feeling frustration and without feeling that they would like to be somewhere else. Both baby and mother need a private time of their own.The baby needs to play by himself and explore."
"Even a super mother with a super child may find it difficult to cope. Nobody is just a mother and nothing else. It's the on-goingness of a dependent child - the constancy of it- that can sometimes be overwhelming for a parent."
Excerpted from the LA Times article, Babies do their own thing in CHC Program by Ken Yimm, October 12, 1974
"Set aside predictable, regular times to give full attention without being distracted by other concerns while also creating a safe, familiar place for baby to spend time playing alone."
The Importance of Quality of Attention-
Early on in her career, Magda primarily worked with autistic children. She recalled working with a small boy who drew nothing but thick black lines constantly."He was a schizophrenic child, and not making progress." Magda said she concentrated when working with the child and was usually exhausted from the acute attention she paid during her sessions with him.
One day, the boy asked her, "Gerber where are you?" "I wanted to answer in the conventional, 'I am behind you.' 'I am beside you', but I realized that he was aware that my concentration was not with him. Henry was asking in that split second where my attention was."
"In that moment, I had been thinking about what I would prepare for dinner that evening. I had been thinking of tomato soup. And to this day whenever I open a can of tomato soup, I think of Henry."
Excerpted from the Daily Times, St. Cloud, Minn. article, 'Authentic' infant is hard to find, by Dave Zunker, May 10, 1978
From parents who have taken your Parent-Infant Guidance classes, I've heard that you indeed respect the babies' choices—that they are allowed, even encouraged, to do what they want to do. My question is, isn't this too permissive? How will these infants ever learn discipline?
It seems to me that you have learned about one aspect of the R.I.E. philosophy, without having been made aware of the whole picture. At R.I.E., we certainly believe in the benefits of discipline, for both parents and infants. The word discipline has different meanings, both according to the dictionary and in people's minds. Parents often think of it as punishment, corporal or otherwise, or as a system of punishments and rewards. I see discipline as being a social contract, in which family (or community) members agree to accept and obey a particular set of rules. We need discipline just as we need traffic signs, and we have a mutual expectation that these red, yellow, and green lights will be observed in the same way by all members. Living within a system of generally accepted rules makes life easier for all of us. While rules vary among cultures and among families, I think most people would agree that a mutually acceptable system of rules is necessary for co-existence. This system can be determined within each family by clarifying the needs of its members and then developing a set of rules or guidelines which accommodates those needs as much as possible. After deciding on the rules, a parent must then introduce them to the child and reinforce them. The question is how? My guidelines for the 'how' are as follows:
1) Establish a few, simple, reasonable rules and make sure they are age-appropriate.
2) Expect these rules to be obeyed.
3) Be consistent but not rigid.
4) Give the child choices within a secure framework.
5) Remember that even children (especially children) need to be able to save face and avoid power struggles.
Let me talk about each one of these guidelines. First of all, remember that discipline is not a set of rigidly enforced mandates, but a process in which the child learns to become a social being. Social learning, like any other form of learning, is dependent upon the child's capacities. Don't expect things of a child that are against the very nature of their current developmental stage. To expect a newborn not to cry a very young baby not to put things in her mouth, or a toddler not to say no is unreasonable. Also, timing is an important factor. One can't expect cooperation from a sleepy or hungry baby. Knowing when to give infants freedom and when to introduce limits is most important and is the backbone of the R.I.E. approach.
The second guideline concerns expectations as well. In my practice I have seen that a child's response to parental demands depends very much upon the parents' own deep-down expectations. The way a demand is expressed triggers the child to do something or not to do it. If the parent doesn't really believe in the validity of a particular rule, or is afraid that the child will not obey, chances are the child won't.
The third guideline calls for consistency. Predictability is habit-forming, and the formulation of habits makes it much easier to live with rules. There are some things we don't need or want to re-examine every time we do them, such as brushing our teeth. It's much more convenient for us if actions like these become second nature. Because very young children do not understand the reasons behind the rules they are expected to follow, it is better if these rules become simply a matter of course. For example, it is much easier to get a baby to go to sleep when the same schedule and routine precedes each night's bedtime. This should continue until the child herself indicates the need for some sort of change. In addition, we all know how difficult it is to change habits once we have them. For this reason alone we should try to establish good habits from the very beginning. This is why I tell parents to start establishing patterns and routines right from the child's birth. Through regularity of routines, babies eventually learn to anticipate that which is expected of them. This is the beginning of discipline.
The fourth guideline refers to choice within boundaries. Boundaries which are predictably and consistently reinforced provide security. In order to really develop inner discipline, children must be given the freedom to make choices. Knowing when to give infants freedom and when to introduce limits is most important and is the backbone of the R.I.E. approach. We need to remember that limits function as traffic signals, keeping things flowing smoothly between family members. Within this framework are those things a child is expected to do (non-negotiable areas), what she is allowed to do (negotiable areas), what is tolerated ("I don't really like that, but I can understand why you need to do it."), and what is forbidden.
These are the parameters of discipline. Within these parameters are what I perceive as being inviolable areas of choice. Babies have an inborn capacity to make healthful choices about how they want to move and learn. They should be provided with safe, appropriately-sized rooms in which they can move and explore freely. Their use of objects and play materials should not be restricted, governed, or overly interfered with. Babies must have freedom of choice in the area of gross motor development and manipulation (play).
One can further enhance the child's sense of himself as a decision-maker by allowing enough time to elapse after requesting something, so that the child can decide on his own whether or not to cooperate. This leads to the fifth guideline. If a child spends hours playing uninterruptedly, he will be much more willing to cooperate with the demands of his parent. If he doesn't have to fight for autonomy, he can comfortably relinquish it once in a while. And we must understand that children need to be able to save face when they have not obeyed a rule. Children fight an inner - "If the parent doesn't really believe in the validity of a particular rule, or is afraid that the child will not obey, chances are the child won't." - struggle. One part of them wants to please, yet they also have to resist in order to test the limits of their power. In a way, each one of us carries around that eternal two-year-old, who shouts 'no' as he is offered an ice-cream cone, even while reaching for it. None of us really likes to be told what to do, even when it is good for us.
In our Parent-Infant Guidance classes we like to model how we teach and reinforce rules. We have a snack for the older babies at a special table around which the demonstrator and the babies sit. Children may choose between items to eat or drink, and may choose not to have snack, but they may not take food, juice, or bottles away from the table. It is an incredible learning experience for all of us to see how even the youngest infants learn the rule and decide whether or not to obey it. After many repetitions of the rule they get the message and then have to test it over and over again. We've often seen a baby or toddler steal away from the table and then turn back to make sure that the demonstrator sees her, as though she were checking to see whether the rule would be enforced. This shows that the child understands that a rule exists.It is natural for children to carry food away from the table. They can see no real reason not to. When a child ignores the rule, the demonstrator tries to show that she fully understands the child's desire to do what he wants, and that he is not naughty or bad for having that desire. Therefore, she does not get angry with the child, but calmly and unemotionally repeats the rule.
Of course, we understand parents who get irritated after their toddlers play with the television set after being told 'no' several times. But it becomes easier to handle once one realizes that the child's behavior stems from a natural inclination and not from a desire to drive the parent crazy.So, as you can see, dear parent, the R.I.E. approach to discipline is not permissive, but understanding. Children, like adults, need rules and guidelines. I conceptualize discipline as being a system based on and facilitative of mutual respect among family members. We could easily exchange the word 'discipline' for the word 'educaring'—they are both a combination of learning and nurturance. The goal is inner or self-discipline, self confidence, and joy in the act of cooperation. ©Magda Gerber, Originally published in Educaring Vol III No 3 Summer 1982
I was pregnant at the time I first heard about RIE at a conference given by you and Dr. Pikler. I know it was the best possible preparation for my baby and myself. And now, when I compare Rachel (at 15 months) to other children, she is so much more peaceful than they are and she plays happily for hours by herself. Yet, sometimes, I have doubts. All around me I see parents taking their babies to classes and teaching them at home and I wonder if we might be missing something. There are so many programs and so many people pressuring me to do this or that with Rachel. I look at her and I can see that RIE is right. But why is it so hard for me to explain to others what I believe? Or, why can't they hear me? Confused Parent
To start where your letter ends, how well I understand your problem. All my classes, lectures, articles, movies, every Educaring keeps trying to explain what RIE is all about. So many parents and professionals have asked for more guidelines on how to put the RIE method into practice and how to explain it to others, I would like to present them again here.
What an infant needs - what every human being wants - is to experience the full undivided attention of a parent or other significant person. But nobody can pay attention all of the time. What makes parenting so difficult - so much of a grind - is the ongoingness of it. To be always needed, always available, can drain any parent's energies.
The natural time to be wholeheartedly with your child is the time you do spend together anyway - the time while you care for your baby. Think of that time as special; take the telephone off the hook before you intend to feed, bathe, or even diaper your baby, and tell your child, "I'm going to take the phone off the hook so nobody will disturb us!" This will create intimacy. After such intimate moments your baby will be pleased to explore by herself if you have prepared the proper environment.
Every infant needs an absolutely safe environment, one in which he can move freely according to his gross-motor abilities. A crib is all right for the first two and one half months, a playpen until about five months. At that young age infants are not locomotive - cannot move far away from where we put them - so they do not find these small places restrictive. On the contrary, it is their familiar place with their familiar objects in it. Ideally, the crib and the playpen are in the child's own room. The room should be within hearing distance from where the mother is (kitchen, bathroom, etc.).
At about five to six months, the child can spend increasingly more time on the floor of her room. As the rest of the house is usually not as safe, it helps to have a gate. If a whole room is not available, a part of a room should be safely partitioned. Interestingly, parents often feel sorry for a baby who is allowed to freely move about, can manipulate and explore in his or her own room, while they do not feel sorry for a baby trapped in an infant seat which is placed on the kitchen table!
Ideally children should have a duplicate crib and a playpen out-of-doors to spend many hours napping and playing safely outside without the parents having to watch them every minute. These safe environments not only allow the child to spend uninterrupted time exploring and learning, but it also allows the parents to pursue their own projects. When the time comes to provide care again, both infant and parent can enjoy it fully without pressure.
The quality of your interactions will also improve if you learn how to observe and understand the personality of your child. To peacefully sit in the room while your child is doing her own thing, without wanting to play with her, teach her, or care for her - just be available to her - will make you much more sensitive to your child's needs, her tempo and style. Try to observe what interests her, how she handles frustration, solves little problems. Allow your child to learn about you. Be genuine and honest in your interactions. You do not need to put on a sweet smile when you are awakened in the middle of the night. You are sleepy, so act sleepy.
Accept the feelings of your baby, positive as well as negative. Do not try to stop the crying with a pacifier. Do not tickle a sad baby. You may save your grown-up child many dollars spent on therapies where they have to relearn how to cry and how to show feelings. And trust your baby. Trust her initiations, her choices, her motivation and innate desire to learn. Why teach anything to a child that she would learn all by herself? Why cram her head with knowledge unrelated to her interests and readiness?
What makes parenting difficult is the conflict of needs (father wants to leave, baby clings and cries; mother wants to sleep, baby wakes and cries). Parents are torn between contradictory advice. Some advise, "You, the parent, have the right to live your own life and the baby has to adjust to it." This usually means that parents take the infants wherever they go - shopping, visiting, movies. The babies' biological timetables are messed up, they become appendages of their parents' lives. According to other advice, the mother should give up everything just to serve the baby. Seldom are guidelines given for mutual adaptation. The RIE guidelines can help you to be sensitive to both your baby's and your own needs.
© Magda Gerber (First published in Winter 1983 Educaring)
Vol I No 4 Autumn 1980
Beginning in this issue, Educaring will run a regular advice column of letters and responses between readers and Magda Gerber, the Director of Resources for Infant Educarers.
Ever since reading your manual, I feel much more confident in handling many situations with my child. But when something unexpected happens I would like to be able to ask your advice—like the other day when my child was biting me. Could you start a "Dear Abby" column in Educaring? Of course, I want the answers right here and now and not to have to wait three or four months until the next issue comes out. Any solutions?
The problems during infancy indeed change so fast that even monthly advice would come too late. Yet in reading the many letters which I receive which have specific questions, I believe it would be helpful to discuss them.
The answer is seldom a simple formula. The simple "do this" answer functions like a "fire extinguisher." Regardless of whether it works or does not work in a particular situation, it usually does not contribute to long term goals such as: a better relationship, a more peaceful living together. It means only surviving one crisis after another. If the goal is to prevent crisis, then you have to learn a whole new attitude, a whole new way of understanding your child, yourself, and the conflictual situation. I hope that even if your child is not a biter, a poor eater, etc., you may learn something from reading about these problems.
I often feel insecure because I am unsure whether what I am doing with my child is right or wrong. What can I do to help my baby feel secure, self-confident, and relaxed?
The issue of what makes a person feel secure would deserve at least a book. All of us experience self-confidence under some circumstances and fear and doubt under others. Security comes from believing either that I can handle the situation I am in (self-trust) or that in some way the situation will be taken care of (trust in the environment).
Infancy is a time of great dependence. Nevertheless babies should be allowed to do things for themselves from the very beginning. Here are some examples of what I mean:
—Mother places her nipple on baby's cheek. The rooting reflex moves baby's head towards the breast.
—Father looks at baby with outstretched arms and asks: "Do you want to be picked up?" Baby is given time to make a choice.
—A five-month-old boy reaches for a doll. He wriggles his body closer to it and finally is able to reach it.
—An eleven-month-old's ball gets stuck under a shelf. His expression shows anger. He kicks his legs. Parent says, "Oh, your ball got stuck. What can you do?"
Parent waits quietly or may say "This upsets you," showing empathy without taking over. Child kicks ball and ball rolls out.
Had the mother thrust the breast into the child's mouth, had the father picked up the child regardless of the child's reaction, or had the parent given the doll or ball to the infant, these children would have been deprived of trying to handle the situation, learning by doing, and experiencing the joy of mastery.
Trust your baby's competence: she wants to do things for herself, and she can do things for herself. You also know that your child does need help, but try to provide just that little amount of help that allows the child to take over again. Let her be the initiator and problem solver. We can look at life as a continuation of conflicts or problems. The more often we have mastered a minute difficulty, the more capable we feel the next time.
© Magda Gerber
Magda Gerber's wishes for babies and parents, as told to Cara Wilson, and originally published in a newsletter for parents called AFTER BIRTH, circa 1975. It's amazing to me how relevant these wishes remain almost forty years later.
My wishes for children: I wish they could grow according to their natural pace, sleep when sleepy, eat when hungry, cry when upset, play and grow without being unnecessarily interrupted. To be allowed to grow and blossom as each was meant to be, not molded or shoved into some mode of faddism that confines like a violin case.
I wish children would NOT have to do: 1) Perform for their parents; sit up when ready for rolling, walk when ready for crawling. A child can be pushed to do these things, but physiologically may not be really ready. In our culture we push to attain these states faster than they should be reached. 2) I wish children would not have to reassure their parents of their effectiveness; i.e. smile when frustrated, clap hands when sleepy- "If my child smiles at me, this shows I am a good parent." 3) Not be ping-pong balls between parents. 4) Not be experimental subjects for toy manufactures, cereal makers, new fads or theories in child care.
Please parents, this next holiday season, don't succumb to the pressure of buying expensive, complex toys designed to be used in certain ways. They rarely give children opportunities to explore and use them in their own way. Toys designed to entertain create passive on-lookers, future T.V. addicts, rather than curious, actively learning children. Pressures from commercials are especially strong at the holiday time of year. So think. Think of the many children who are lost and bored unless entertained and who keep asking, "What shall I do now?"
And my last wish for children would be that they could communicate to their parents:
Please let me grow as I be,
And try to understand why I want to grow like me,
Not like my mother wants to me to be,
Not like my father hopes I'll be,
Or like my teacher thinks I should be,
Please understand and help me grow
Just like ME!
"We learn from infants. Infants are just as competent as they need to be at any age."
For parents, I wish a lot of things too. I wish they would: 1) Feel secure, but not rigid. 2) Be accepting, but set limits. 3) Be available, but not intruding. 4) Be patient, but "true to thine own self." 5) Be realistic, but consistent in their expectations. 6) Have the wisdom to resist new fads. 7) Achieve a balance between giving quality time to their children and to themselves. 8) Achieve a state of self-respect and give equal respect to their children.
And I have a special wish for fathers too. I wish that fathers could assume a new role of fatherhood based on human relationship rather than believing that being warm and gentle is not "manly" or that a father is expected to be tough- to throw the children into the air, or blow cigarette smoke in their faces (yes, I have seen this done "playfully"). Rough-housing not only scares babies, but sometimes causes brain damage. What I'm saying is that playful pummeling is okay as long as it's not forced by the father and hard on the child. I would like fathers to not be afraid to be themselves, to know that just because they are men, being "macho" is not really expected of them. They can be tender and soothing and quiet and still be "manly."
And you know what I wish above all else? That we don't lose sight of laughter. That through all of the pain we might see and feel around us, we maintain our sense of humor. People who take life too seriously are terrible to live with! Amen!
In honor of mother's day and mothers everywhere, a humorous exchange between two icons. Enjoy!
Erma Bombeck Mothers Change Diapers, Not TheoriesChanging a baby's diaper has always (excuse the expression) ranked right up there with following a garbage truck too closely. It wasn't something a mother refused to do, but she didn't put it on her resume either.
Now an authority on children has suggested if a mother hurries through the job and treats it as a distasteful chore, her attitude could send a negative message to her baby. She says mothers are foolish to waste all that valuable time when they could use it as an opportunity to verbalize with their babies and involve them in the entire process.
You should never scoop the baby up from behind without warning and start to remove his diaper, she says, but should greet him and say, "You are having such a good time with your rubber giraffe, but I'd like to pick you up and change you. Is that all right with you?"
This should be followed by eye contact and more dialogue asking for the baby's complete attention and the mother's undying ecstasy throughout the process.
I don't care what anyone says about laying the foundation for a child's positive self-image ... unless the kid can roll up his own diaper and hook-shot it into a garbage can and put a lid on it, I don't see how we have anything to talk about.
Besides, it's a two-way street. What's to prevent a kid from verbalizing over a diaper change, "Snap it up, frozen fingers, and give me my rubber giraffe back or I'm going to dilute the paint on your newly painted ceiling."
There are a couple of things wrong with this theory. Assuming a mother talked herself into using this time as a celebration of plumbing, what happens when the kids meet other people? No one loves a baby who makes your eyes water, and kids better get used to rejection. It is a lesson that is either learned early or haunts them when you threaten them with a hole in their folding chair at graduation.
Surprise is one of the best things a mother has going for her. Many's the time I've swooped down on a child with a red face like a bald eagle and deposited him, diaper and all, on the bathroom throne just because he "looked" like he was going to "make disgusting."
For centuries, mothers have carved a niche for themselves as world-class martyrs because of their devotion to dry diapers. It is one of the few things we do that fathers are awed by.
Frankly, I resent the fact that someone would think I could diaper babies all those years and not have some rapport with them. There wasn't a time when I did not lean over and whisper in their little ears, "You owe me big for this for the rest of your life. Wet again and the giraffe dies." (This column was published on Thursday, June 18, 1987 in the Los Angeles Times. Photo credit: TS & EF on flickr )
Magda's response to Erma's column:
July 14, 1987
c/o Los Angeles Times
Times Mirror Square
Los Angeles, California
Please don't kill the giraffe! The giraffe is innocent.
If you must- kill the "authority" (name and address included), though she may have already suffered a close-to-fatal ego burst from being quoted by her favorite humorist, Erma Bombeck.
Feeling rejected is in the mind of the 'rejectee', a healthy dose of "undying ecstasy" could immunize one against all rejections to come.
To enhance our mothers' "undying ecstasy" the same
"authority" also advises them to get their daily dose
of Erma Bombeck humor. (Who do you read for a boost?)
P.S. To make you laugh even more, I am sending you our Manual -- more of the same giraffe stories....
And Erma's response to Magda:
July 30, 1987
Thank God there is someone out there whose humor has remained intact.
I respect what you do and I'm delighted you respect what I do. It's people like you who try to make it a better world, and it's people like me who try to shoot holes in it while it's airborne. I was kidding about the giraffe.
Thanks for your letter and your manual.
P.S. I promise to give you a little peace for awhile.
On the plane ride home last week, returning from the
23rd annual RIE Conference for Parents and Professionals in Los Angeles, I sat reflecting on my work with, and wishes for babies and families. Attending the conference had been an especially poignant experience, as we had marked the fifth year of Magda's passing the day before, and Bence introduced this web site to conference attendees in honor of Magda. It was wonderful to connect with friends old and new, and energizing to attend workshops given by dedicated and skilled educarers.
It seems an appropriate time to share a letter Magda wrote while on an airplane returning from a trip to Alabama, where she had been invited to lecture at a conference for caregivers...
I am sitting in the airplane, flying home after three delightful days in Birmingham, Alabama. I certainly appreciated spending two days with the same people I was lecturing to. I also enjoyed the very kind colleagues who picked me up, drove me to and from the airport, went shopping with me and invited me to their homes.I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of Birmingham: lovely homes, beautiful scenery, so green it looked like a painting, and the people so very kind. I felt welcomed. It would be nice to know how well I was understood, whether care providers will change because they have listened to me. I keep wondering why professionals want infants to do what they cannot do rather than enjoy what they are doing. Who gains? Is earlier better?
Sometimes I daydream about a society in which nobody has to work more than five hours a day, where children and adults can develop at their own rate and follow their own interests, where schools help children find special areas of interest and ways to learn about them. Is it possible that when those children grow up, they may not need to escape by taking drugs, becoming criminals, being "outsiders" and feeling alienated from society? On the contrary, they would enjoy believing that they are helping to make the world a better place.
I keep hoping that people will make their jobs easier and more pleasurable. Both the children and teachers would benefit. The recipe is so simple: observe more-interfere less.
P.S. I would like to invite everybody who has an idea of how to give children a better start to write to us!(If you'd like to listen to the keynote speech given by Magda Gerber at The RIE Conference in 1979,click here.)
I'd like to leave you with the following thought to ponder, with thanks to RIE Associate Linda Hinrichs.Suppose: "Imagine you felt accepted and supported just as you are, appreciated for everything you do, celebrated and observed in each new accomplishment and allowed time to explore, try, experiment and experience life without judgment or fear of failure. How would it feel to build a lifetime from this strong foundation?"
Suppose quote written by: Linda Hinrichs, RIE Associate, and Children's Corner Play Center Owner/Director, Contact:Justus@netwood.net