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