Jan 5, 2015

New Year Beings and Doings


HAPPY 2015 TO ALL! wishing you the best of caring, loving times...
Here's snack time for toddlers, my oldest group of wonderfully authentic families that will "graduate" in a few short weeks :(
One parent wrote this about snack: 

"When my daughter was just shy of her first birthday, we joined a toddler class. Every week, a dozen or so parents and the instructor would quietly observe the children, in an effort to raise 'authentic' and 'competent' human beings, with a minimum of intervention.
One afternoon, a little boy toppled off a slide and began to cry. His startled father hugged the child and said in a comforting tone, “You’re all right.” A moment passed. Then the instructor
said, “Children don’t cry when they’re all right.” It seemed harsh at the time. But I soon realized that it wasn’t empathy that was being discouraged; it was telling even a small child what he was supposed to feel.
Each week, the instructor would prepare a snack area on the floor. If a child wanted bananas and juice, he or she had to put aside the toys, sit down, and put on a bib. It was totally optional. But there were requirements. And it was astonishing to watch as these tiny children made their choices. Some went in for the snack in the first or second week. Others took longer. All of them got there eventually.
I’ll never forget how I felt the first time my daughter had the snack. Crazy as it sounds, I was really moved by her little act of independence and the obvious satisfaction it gave her. Now, as
my children near adolescence, I try to remember that I can guide them, but I can’t tell them what to think or feel. I can try to teach them to make good choices, but ultimately, they must be trusted to choose. And if they know what they want – if they can learn to recognize that special light inside themselves—and if they are brave enough to follow it—they will be satisfied.
And that will be enough for me."
 Dee Dee Myers 8/11 Elul1
New young pre-crawler group begins Wed. February 4th at 10:30 am in West
 Hollywood ...there's still a little room for a few more families! And Fridays in Ventura County.

Jun 21, 2014

Stepping up to the Internet Plate…


I am taking a leap into the world of on-line learning after nearly three decades of facilitating parent education and child development -- live and in person -- offering RIE® Parent – Infant Guidance Classes, My new class,  “How to Become a Parent While Keeping Your Inner Self From Getting Left Behind,” is going out to the worldwide web! Just to be clear for those I’ve had the privilege to work with in the past, this isn’t a new brand of RIE, just a new frame I’m utilizing. I hope you’ll give it a whirl…(link below)
Like a pebble tossed in a pond, this could hold the prospect of sending ripples into cyberspace by presenting to a wider on screen audience the wisdom of my teacher, Magda Gerber, and The Educaring® Approach.

With this generous opportunity I may now meet up with anyone out there who seeks some gusto for having goals or more clear intentions for parenthood as well as work in the infant care field. I trust that the message delivered through this digitized means may prevail, and will bring more ease, better coherence to daily life, and then lightness and depth of understanding to the very big subject of family matters. If it matters to you, dear reader, and to some others who matter to you, please send it forward.


Of course I’ll still be teaching my regular RIE classes in the usual settings where time and space allow the unfolding of humane kindness for babies and their parent(s) as the RIE philosophy comes to be understood and appreciated. I will start a couple of new young baby groups this summer in West Hollywood as well as in Ojai.

P.S. And please don’t watch the video with anybody’s baby on your lap
J

Aug 31, 2013

DON'T LOSE TOUCH

“Thank you for teaching us to let our child teach us,” wrote a perceptive couple who had been in a RIE group with me for the first two years of their parenting lives. By following RIE Principle #7, “sensitive observation of the child in order to understand the child’s needs,” we have a learning mode, the child becoming the teacher. There is a continuous information loop returning to us every present time, every moment of now, when we don’t lose touch, sight or sound with the other.

“To hear someone else out, you need to be able to be still for a while and pay attention to something other than your immediate needs”, states Sherry Turkle writing about “Technology and Self.” She asks "…are we at a point in our history when we would want to construct false relationships?” Research has shown the technology can leave people feeling disconnected since we don’t need to pay full attention as we create a self in hiding behind a texting cell phone…perhaps while we push a stroller or, even worse, as we breast feed. I watched a furious toddler screaming to get his oblivious cell-phoning nanny’s attention strolling up a NYC street. (Happily I saw another little one pushing her doll stroller while her coffee-sipping parent patiently paced herself according to her toddler's engagement with a blanket-wrapped stuffed animal, and mom cheerily told me it can take an hour to get a cup of coffee this way!)

What does it take to pay attention, to focus and observe…to keep intimacy by not losing touch…and I certainly don’t mean via the touch-screen! Can we put aside what we know, “unbusy our minds” as my teacher Magda Gerber cleverly put it, and be curiously open to letting another show us what we don’t know?  Becoming aware, receptive, to the child’s feelings, wants, and needs. Interestingly enough, adults sometimes learn as much about themselves as they do about children during observation. Self-reflection is observation turned inward. For readers already or formerly involved in RIE Parent – Infant Guidance Classes, the class structure does provide that learning mode. Can you continue using that tool despite the touch-screen lure…”observe more, do less, enjoy most”, as Gerber suggested?

Here’s the caveat: “The purpose of observation is to gain information, not control….parents can train themselves to sharpen their hearing, to listen for what a child thinks or feels about encounters with his parents, instead of listening only for signs of obedience or disobedience. Children who live in a safe [nurturing] environment of mutual respect with their parents are free to give them feedback about what effect their parenting is having.” (“Giving the Love That Heals, A Guide for Parents”).

Slowing down is key, something very young children are often very good at doing if we adults are not pushing them or other unsubtle stimuli (think screen swiping) are not pulling them. Then the first thing it takes is being able to notice what you yourself are doing and why. Is it serving yourself only, with little or no regard for anyone else in the picture? (BTW thanks to The Educaring Approach you have permission to go to that authentic place, just make sure you are honest, tell yourself and tell the others who are effected by your self-respectful choice). When you are 100% present, notice what the child’s focus is on and why. All children communicate through their actions and reactions, so we only need to be receptive to the truth of children’s perceptions of their world inside and outside themselves.

Turkle cites Thoreau, in his writing about Walden, listing the three things that he feels the experience is teaching him, and for him to develop fully as the man he wants to become. He wants to live deliberately; he wants to live in his life; and he wants to live with no sense of resignation. I know Magda Gerber would wholeheartedly agree. Read what she wrote decades ago about the ideal human being to see how that applies even more in the digital age (RIE Manual, p.79).

I have to think RIE families are probably much better equipped to withstand society’s pressures, as parents form a solid evolving foundation of being present for themselves and their children. “Every interaction between an adult and an infant may be crucial for the development of the child’s personality,” writes RIE Associate Elsa Chahin (“Choosing to Be Patient” Educaring Winter 2013). We must be deliberate, shun the bombardment of the cultural abyss out there in the world of interactive touch screens that, yes, young children modeling us are using; putting away in its safe place instead of taking away from ourselves and families. Can we refuse to be resigned to living the view from the screen that captures our lone one way attention?  Tune in to what is so, slow down, being still, being purposeful, living fully even in the most minuscule ways, attending to the mundane rhythms; to live in your life and to never feel that you're just resigned to how things seem to be. Keep in touch…

Jan 27, 2013

Knowing and Growing

Knowing and Growing

“I know, I know” is what I hear one parent in a RIE class reflect to her curious young toddler when there is some expression relayed in wonder by the child who has encountered a situation that warrants recognition. In a similar frame, my son's two year-old once looked at him and asked "What's she doing?" when she suddenly felt the hands of a nearby little one pushed roughly against her chest. There is a need for assurance that “my parent ‘gets’ me and I am safe emotionally and physically in the midst of his/her caring attention.” Our children have the right to that assurance and we can provide it for them, right?

Usually that is the case. Lately comes “Why?” and “How could it be?” -- questions that families, in particular parents, have been asking for the past weeks. Children with awareness of the recent atrocity have hopefully been given support to put it into some kind of context that prevents them from feeling doubt and fear. That part is up to teachers and parents who convey confidence in the surrounding well-traveled and familiar environments.

In my experience, those parents attending RIE family support groups gain more confidence in themselves, and many experience less stress and a sense of burden than the norm on standardized testing which I conducted in a five year longitudinal research project for my masters degree at Pacific Oaks College in 1991. These parents have confidence in their infants and toddlers and the older siblings, an attitude which hopefully often enough spares their children the feelings of being under domination by anyone, especially an authoritarian style of parenting, the stuff that psychotherapist/author Alice Miller has so often written about. The following excerpt is from The Drama of the Gifted Child, an excellent book many parents have found to be transformative.

“People whose integrity has not been damaged in childhood, who were protected, respected, and treated with honesty by their parents, will be--both in their youth and in adulthood--intelligent, responsive, empathic, and highly sensitive. They will take pleasure in life and will not feel any need to kill or even hurt others or themselves. They will use their power to defend themselves, not to attack others. They will not be able to do otherwise than respect and protect those weaker than themselves, including their children, because this is what they have learned form their own experience.”

Now families who live in the West Los Angeles area are welcome to come discover and develop this confidence and assurance for themselves and their children by participating in RIE Parent-Infant Guidance Classes, as I open a brand new group for very young babies at an early childhood setting in Westwood. It will be on Monday afternoons from 1:00 to 2:30 pm at 2279 Westwood Blvd, between Pico and Olympic Blvds.
Please contact me for enrollment information: lizmemel@authenticbabies.com

Aug 20, 2012

RIE Lessons


The Talk of the Town

Lately children's lives have been scrutinized a lot, exposed more and more to the public eye. One first glint of it came many years ago when a Newsweek article featured a preschooler whose teacher advised he needed fine motor tutoring because he was deemed to be deficient in sticker usage. “Childism,” a new term coined by a psychoanalyst/author, points a very stern finger at society's neglect and ill will towards children. Who's to blame? Surely it cannot all fall in the proverbial laps of Moms and Dads. The next “Bumbo” to hit the market (4 million recalled, Reuters 8/15/12) is surely already in the works, evidence that the vulnerable parent will get sucked in by the baby market yet again. It may just be the culture that feeds the anxious frenzy about our children's welfare. 

No doubt the bulk of this trap is sourced from within the parents. David Elkind, Ph.D., the prominent author and child study specialist who pegged the “hurried child” eleven years ago, tells readers (The Power of Play, 2007) that new parents may enter a regressive stage not unlike young adolescence or the freshman year of college when peer group pressure causes an imaginary critic to lurk in the wings, causing them anxious concern that really originates inside themselves. They become overinvested which can lead to this intrusiveness in children's lives articulated by the plethora of recent books and articles. Elkind reminds us of former eras when our more grounded parents just said "go out and play." Yes, times have changed!

What may be lacking for everyone, child and adult, is a strong sense of one's authentic self, a valued attribute pursued in earnest in RIE Parent/Infant Guidance Classes. What I believe happens best for parents is the preventive learning of the model of non-intervention in a baby’s motor development. It is possible to gain trust in one’s child’s competence and in oneself and to refrain from intervening, especially as falling down and the self-reliant getting up occurs. In the classes we observe and learn from witnessing the myriad ways babies are drawn to struggle and continually develop resilient problem solving skills. In 1991 while researching my masters thesis, I asked parents from my first RIE class whose children were all in kindergarten at the time how that model continued to influence their relationships with those 5 year-olds. Their powerful stories revealed the continuum of the “less is more” successes. The long-term effects of their early inner awareness, the kind of sensory cues that enable healthy interpersonal growth had happened gradually through the experiential processes of observation and demonstration in their RIE classes. When that happens, what the parent also knows is about herself, that she can and will continue to really see her child, discovering more and more about that child’s trusted growth, releasing the need to control by pushing for more or by disrespectfully stifling freedom of expression and individuation. As stated brilliantly by a young father of a two year-old in a brief free family support program at Los Angeles City College, “I saw that what I wanted for my child overwhelmed him and what he was learning about himself.”

I've witnessed awakenings to soulful healing as parents learn to trust and open up to the humanity of their very young children and themselves. Greater balance and less strife are easier to find when mutual respect thrives in parent-infant relationships, with everyone's natural abilities slowly unfolding. These are the greatest opportunities of present time and space for living in the now. Instead of that, most people think that a baby's first years fly by. They are missing the clarity of the present moment, stuck in the drudgery of wanting to control too much, the over-involved "professional parent" of the 21st century. The Wall Street Journal’s health blogger Shirley Wang got a very interesting comment from a fourth grade teacher who had read her students Wang’s article (3/13/12) about the UCLA study on children’s dependency needs. The teacher noted that she has known parents who already believe their child is independent by age 9 or 10. RIE parents are way ahead of that curve, having found one potential antidote for the fear of failure early on, perhaps while seeing their babies learn to crawl and then sit. No Bumbos in sight, free uninterrupted play abounds. Sometimes the urge to help too much can’t be squelched, but then comes the awareness that something might be awry, pun intended! The great leveler, “Whose need is getting met?” can guide one to allow autonomy while minimizing relationship risks through personal boundaries. “When we do things for our children out of our needs rather than theirs, it forces them to circumvent the most critical task of childhood: to develop a robust sense of self” accurately advises clinician/author Madeline Levine in the recent “Raising Successful Children” (NY Times, 8/4/12) when she tells us what not to do.

Magda Gerber described infants’ “natural way of learning” as healthy child development “when they do what feels right” instead of when “what they can do is not valued but cannot do is expected.” (See How They Move) Heralding decades ago in The RIE Manual, “Nobody said it was easy to be a parent”, she identified the two major difficulties as ”The On-Goingness of Being a Parent” and The Technicality of Being a Parent.” Her prophetic words tell how “these two realities...impinge on the attitudes of today. “And these realities don’t have to be so overwhelming if the parents have strong support, both that of their peers and of society itself. If the parent’s job is recognized as tough and society supports parenthood and its toughness, then the parent feels strong....I’m not talking about glorifying parenthood the way they...hallelujahed parenthood so much...out of proportion that no one could live up to that false ‘perfect’ image of the super parent. That was the pitfall of those times,” she optimistically hoped. Nothing’s changed much. In fact, parenthood has morphed into a publicist’s dream in the culture vulture mentality. Her EduaringTM Approach is available.

It’s back to school we go! Many classes at the RIE Center have a few openings, and a brand new group in my RIE Program is about to begin the Wednesday after Labor Day (how appropriate). On September 6, at 11:00 or 1:00, families will be gathering in a studio in West Hollywood. There is limited enrollment, so please tell your friends and family that the opportunity to grow successful children begins at birth. The good news is the RIE Approach is an antidote for all the hovering helicopters and pushing snowplows. Why not start growing awareness from the beginning?

Lately children's lives have been scrutinized a lot, exposed more and more to the public eye. One first glint of it came many years ago when a Newsweek article featured a preschooler whose teacher advised he needed fine motor tutoring because he was deemed to be deficient in sticker usage. “Childism,” a new term coined by a psychoanalyst/author, points a very stern finger at society's neglect and ill will towards children. Who's to blame? Surely it cannot all fall in the proverbial laps of Moms and Dads. The next “Bumbo” to hit the market (4 million recalled, Reuters 8/15/12) is surely already in the works, evidence that the vulnerable parent will get sucked in by the baby market yet again. It may just be the culture that feeds the anxious frenzy about our children's welfare.

No doubt the bulk of this trap is sourced from within the parents. David Elkind, Ph.D., the prominent author and child study specialist who pegged the “hurried child” eleven years ago, tells readers (The Power of Play, 2007) that new parents may enter a regressive stage not unlike young adolescence or the freshman year of college when peer group pressure causes an imaginary critic to lurk in the wings, causing them anxious concern that really originates inside themselves. They become overinvested which can lead to this intrusiveness in children's lives articulated by the plethora of recent books and articles. Elkind reminds us of former eras when our more grounded parents just said "go out and play." Yes, times have changed!

What may be lacking for everyone, child and adult, is a strong sense of one's authentic self, a valued attribute pursued in earnest in RIE Parent-Infant Guidance classes. What I believe happens best for parents is the preventive learning of the model of non-intervention in a baby’s motor development. It is possible to gain trust in one’s child’s competence and in oneself and to refrain from intervening, especially as falling down and the self-reliant getting up occurs. In the classes we observe and learn from witnessing the myriad ways babies are drawn to struggle and continually develop resilient problem solving skills. In 1991 while researching my masters thesis, I asked parents from my first RIE class whose children were all in kindergarten at the time how that model continued to influence their relationships with those 5 year-olds. Their powerful stories revealed the continuum of the “less is more” successes. The long-term effects of their early inner awareness, the kind of sensory cues that enable healthy interpersonal growth had happened gradually through the experiential processes of observation and demonstration in their RIE classes. When that happens, what the parent also knows is about herself, that she can and will continue to really see her child, discovering more and more about that child’s trusted growth, releasing the need to control by pushing for more or by disrespectfully stifling freedom of expression and individuation. As stated brilliantly by a young father of a two year-old in a brief free family support program at Los Angeles City College, “I saw that what I wanted for my child overwhelmed him and what he was learning about himself.”

I've witnessed awakenings to soulful healing as parents learn to trust and open up to the humanity of their very young children and themselves. Greater balance and less strife are easier to find when mutual respect thrives in parent-infant relationships, with everyone's natural abilities slowly unfolding. These are the greatest opportunities of present time and space for living in the now. Instead of that, most people think that a baby's first years fly by. They are missing the clarity of the present moment, stuck in the drudgery of wanting to control too much, the over-involved "professional parent" of the 21st century. The Wall Street Journal’s health blogger Shirley Wang got a very interesting comment from a fourth grade teacher who had read her students Wang’s article (3/13/12) about the UCLA study on children’s dependency needs. The teacher noted that she has known parents who already believe their child is independent by age 9 or 10. RIE parents are way ahead of that curve, having found one potential antidote for the fear of failure early on, perhaps while seeing their babies learn to crawl and then sit. No Bumbos in sight, free uninterrupted play abounds. Sometimes the urge to help too much can’t be squelched, but then comes the awareness that something might be awry, pun intended! The great leveler, “Whose need is getting met?” can guide one to allow autonomy while minimizing relationship risks through personal boundaries. “When we do things for our children out of our needs rather than theirs, it forces them to circumvent the most critical task of childhood: to develop a robust sense of self” accurately advises clinician/author Madeline Levine in the recent “Raising Successful Children” (NY Times, 8/4/12) when she tells us what not to do.

Magda Gerber described infants’ “natural way of learning” as healthy child development “when they do what feels right” instead of when “what they can do is not valued but cannot do is expected.” (See How They Move) Heralding decades ago in The RIE Manual, “Nobody said it was easy to be a parent,” she identified the two major difficulties as ”The On-Goingness of Being a Parent” and “The Technicality of Being a Parent.” Her prophetic words tell how “these two realities...impinge on the attitudes of today. “And these realities don’t have to be so overwhelming if the parents have strong support, both that of their peers and of society itself. If the parent’s job is recognized as tough and society supports parenthood and its toughness, then the parent feels strong....I’m not talking about glorifying parenthood the way they...hallelujahed parenthood so much...out of proportion that no one could live up to that false ‘perfect’ image of the super parent. That was the pitfall of those times,” she optimistically hoped. Nothing’s changed much. In fact, parenthood has morphed into a publicist’s dream in the culture vulture mentality. Her EducaringTM Approach is available.

It’s back to school we go! Many classes at the Los Angeles RIE Center have a few openings, and a brand new group in my RIE Praent-Infant Guidance class program is about to begin the Wednesday after Labor Day (how appropriate). On September 6, at 11:00 or 1:00, families will be gathering in a studio in West Hollywood. There is limited enrollment, so please tell your friends and family that the opportunity to grow successful children begins at birth. The good news is that Magda Gerber’s Educaring™ Approach is an antidote for all the hovering helicopters and pushing snowplows. Why not start growing awareness from the beginning?

“If we help our children build confidence from infancy in their ability to learn, in their own sense of knowing what is best for them, then they will have the capacity to learn for a whole lifetime.” Magda Gerber, RIE Founding Director




Feb 16, 2012

French, Chinese, or what?


Humanizing Families 
           
The infamous saga of eating out with young children continues. Picture twenty month- old Tim entering a neighborhood restaurant with his parents, toddling past some big potted plants just at his eye level. Tim reaches out for a fat green leaf and is about to grab on when his attentive mother speaks. "Timmy, that's not okay for you to pull. It looks like you want to touch it, so please be gentle." In turn the attentive, communicative toddler hears the message and lets go. Losing interest in the scenery and feeling hungry, the family moves to their waiting table for a meal together. Timmy truly wants to sit only on his mom's lap, and she tells him that will be fine for a while, but when their food comes, she wants him to sit in his seat too. Sure enough, soon he is placed in his seat, offered a bib to wear, and eats his meal alongside his parents. But in a while it's clear that this toddler needs more room, and they're all on their way home, hunger satisfied.
           
What goes on here? It looks and sounds like these people have relationships with each other that enable their lives to function in a pleasant, harmonious and cooperative manner. Were these parents finding a way to see their role through humanized eyes, growing in new directions towards healthy patterns of mutual satisfaction and care in their family? Have they fostered something that makes early childhood less difficult than the typical public eating out scenario? Sounds familiar...and it doesn't seem like they were controlling their toddler by forcing his compliance. 

What about their parenting style? Is it French or Chinese? Years ago a letter to the Times stated “Parenting trends come and go but children’s needs never change.” This is true no matter if one emulates last year’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” or the latest “Bringing Up Bébé.” As Magda Gerber, Founding Director of Los Angeles-based Resources for Infant Educarers said, “When allowed to unfold in their own way and in their own time, children discover, manifest and inspire the best in themselves and in others.” The buzz is high voltage on these two books, hot-housed in PR firms and creating the controversy over authoritarian vs. permissive parenting while bashing today’s parents and kids.

What Tim’s parents were doing was communicating and responding to their child, intentionally allowing his cues to inform them – a parenting approach they began experiencing when Tim was first born. As new parents they became aware that the developing relationship between parent and child was primary as they slowly learned to look to their baby to find out what he needed instead of projecting their needs onto him (a familial dysfunctional pattern best avoided in one’s own new family).  These parents would later learn how that enduring concept would influence the years far beyond infancy, resonating for them every day long into adolescence.

Parenthood provides a difficult but therapeutic stage of adult development that I have studied and processed for decades as an infant developmental specialist. In my masters degree research with families of young children, the outcomes of a standardized attitudinal test showed very little stress from a group that had been participating for two years in a program offering Magda Gerber’s EducaringTM Approach. These parents perceived much less burdensome aspects of their roles, an experience that many fed-up parents and boundary-less kids today would no doubt covet.    

By sensitive observation of a baby, the parent may make fewer but more selective and more effective interruptions in the child's activities. Being actively allowed to explore safely builds trust in oneself and those significant others who accept you and your yearnings, both physical and emotional. Responsiveness to a child's signals on an emotional level, the quiet availability and facilitation of striving for independence, is shown by the caregiver's willingness to allow the child's autonomous functioning and help him achieve a sense of his own competence.         
           
The fundamental worth of the whole child, including his responsibility for the choices he makes, his initiative, needs to be acknowledged by another in order to be felt and learned by him. "Spontaneous, self-initiated activities by the infant have an essential value for his physical and mental development in that the pleasure evolving from exploration and self-mastery is self-reinforcing. Subsequently, the infant becomes intrinsically motivated to learn," writes Magda Gerber in “Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect”, her well-known book self-published by Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE), a non-profit based in Los Angeles since 1978. (www.rie.org)
                       
"A consciousness in everyday interactions which bring forth respect," is the way one parent who benefited from RIE’s supportive parenting classes describes the daily process of fully experiencing growth and change together. Vital life-long patterns of communication being formed will affect the parent-child relationship throughout its existence where self-discovery offers a process for mutual growth and development.

Magda Gerber wrote decades ago in The RIE Manual: for parents and professionals “Nobody said it was easy to be a parent” She identifies the two major difficulties as ”The On-Goingness of Being a Parent” and The Technicality of Being a Parent.” Her prophetic words tell how “these two realities…impinge on the attitudes of today. “And these realities don’t have to be so overwhelming if the parents have strong support, both that of their peers and of society itself. If the parent’s job is recognized as tough and society supports parenthood and its toughness, then the parent feels strong….I’m not talking about glorifying parenthood the way they…hallelujahed parenthood so much…out of proportion that no one could live up to that false ‘perfect’ image of the super parent. That was the pitfall of those times.” (p. 25) Nothing’s changed much, in fact parenthood has morphed into a publicist’s dream in the culture vulture mentality.
           
Almost everyone knows how expectant parents are practically given a riot act of woeful predictions: “Better sleep now – it’s your last chance” – “Twins? Double trouble!” –“Your life is never going to be the same!” What’s a parent to do? Resign oneself to the ominous challenges by accepting the vision of sacrificial martyrdom and hovering, up to and including your child’s first job applications? Or understand some possibilities for finding community, making conscious parenting choices that could help develop more harmony and balance in a family’s life from the beginning…and for the long run too.

Jan 14, 2012

Authentic Babies News: 23rd Annual RIE™ Infant Toddler Conference

Authentic Babies News: 23rd Annual RIE™ Infant Toddler Conference: 23rd Annual RIE™ Infant Toddler Conference for Parents and Professionals Workshop Presentation: Developing Perspective: The Give and the Ge...

Jan 10, 2012

"Our Babies, Ourselves"

Reprinted with permission from The Bubble, A Literary and Feature Magazine • Winter/Spring 2012

OUR BABIES, OURSELVES

 By Nancy Gross

....The recently deceased German Psychoanalyst Alice Miller’s 1978 book, “The Drama of the Gifted Child” circumscribes depression as being a state that indicates a wealth of feelings yearning for expression, but unable to be expressed because the early childhood roots of these vital human energies were cut off by parents who had the same repression instilled in them. Miller thus invited scrutiny of parenting methods that delineate between acceptable and unacceptable feelings in very young children. She was out to expose even subtle ways that well-meaning parents and caregivers invalidate the authentic experiences of children.

Miller’s findings as she worked with patients caused her to separate herself from colleagues and classic psychoanalysis, where she believed that similar delineations were being employed unwittingly, keeping patients stifled and in pain. She sought new teachers and learned to listen to her own perception and intuition. Miller’s conclusions were groundbreaking because, though she wasn’t in any way discouraging parents from displaying warmth toward their children, she ultimately placed respect above even warmth in terms of what sort of climate will allow a child to grow up without neurosis and depressive illness, and with a strong sense of self, grounded in access to one’s true feelings. Miller acquired the patience and faith needed to let her inner child and the children within her patients step forward and be heard.

As Miller was maturing and going through the losing and finding of voice, others were recognizing similar things about authenticity and developmental disruption, from different vantage points. A kernel which germinated from several body awareness pioneers in Germany in the 30s and 40s led to the education and subsequent career of infant care specialist, Hungarian- born Magda Gerber, founding director of RIE, or Resources for Infant EducarersTM. EducaringTM is Gerber’s coined word, meaning educating while you care. Like Miller, Gerber also insisted on respect as foundational in caring for children, and thereby for building society as a whole. Among her writings are the books, “Dear Parents, Caring for Infants with Respect,” and “Your Self-Confidant Baby.”

For Gerber respecting infants means letting them be active participants in their care. She objected to children being hauled around, dressed up, and passed from person to person as if they were objects. For example, when somebody offered to pass a baby to Gerber, Gerber would audaciously ask, “Do you think the baby wants to be held by me?” A RIE approach to changing a baby’s diaper would include a) looking to see if you are interrupting the baby, b) telling the baby that you are intending to change her diaper, c) letting her know you want to pick her up, d) asking if she is ready, and e) waiting for eye contact and a forward moving signal, such as the child’s arms reaching out in response.

I am at the RIE studio of Elizabeth Memel, RIE Associate living in Ojai and practicing in Ojai and Los Angeles. Memel was taught by Gerber directly before Gerber passed away in 2007, and has visited and spoken at the Pikler Institute in Hungary where RIE originated. The respect Memel has for Gerber and Gerber’s teachers is palpable and recalls the grounded appreciation some people show when they speak of wise mothers and grandmothers.

Memel explains that Gerber’s foremost teacher, Dr. Emmi Pikler, studied the body awareness pioneers, and specifically inquired into what babies would do in terms of motor skill development without intervention. Memel explained Dr. Pikler’s findings, and why Gerber advocated trusting in a child’s individual timetable, rather than pushing children to hurry up and grow up: “It’s pretty simple. Milestones will happen because the baby is ready. They are less important than the other things that happen naturally during the transitions, which then come together to allow a baby to move in new and advanced ways in time and space.”

Memel gestured around the studio she fashioned after the one in Silverlake where she received her training in the 80s. “What you see here is a setting for families and babies. Children come here to be the teachers. We collaborate with them. We observe them to see, ‘Who is this child?’ I’ve lived here for 10 years. I usually have at least one group of babies and one of young toddlers.” When asked how the families find the RIE centers, she said, “It is not mainstream. People learn about the groups from word of mouth, from the Internet, from therapists and pediatricians.”

Memel said that “Moms and dads are feeling isolated and looking for community. They may turn to Mommy and Me, and other classes of that ilk, but are the people who offer these things trained in infant and child development and care? RIE is cutting edge,” she said. “The newest neurobiological research findings bear witness, proving Gerber’s pioneering Educaring TM approach.”

“My work is filled with the bliss of being with babies all day long. They are amazing people to be with. Their gifted parents are watching them becoming who they are.”

RIE provides guidance for parents. “Having your own children is the most tremendous platform for adult growth. Ideally, babies and parents grow in tandem,” Memel said. “To see an infant with new eyes means we open up to the humanity within ourselves, because we see a baby as a complete human being. We slow down. My teacher, Magda Gerber, would say, ‘Observe, observe, and then observe more.’ Then babies can better be seen as active participants in their own care and not as passive recipients.”

RIE’s experiential learning fosters a sense of family collaboration but can still be emotionally difficult for parents and grandparents who have to work thorough discomfort when they are asked not to over-intervene. They may also have to acknowledge some deficits in their own developmental experiences once they see a way that is more honoring of a child’s complete and competent nature.

However, this humanistic philosophy also takes parents off the hook in their own anxieties about being “enough.” Memel again quotes Gerber, who said, “I would like everyone who works with infants to try less and enjoy it more.” Memel adds, “It is a myth that parents can be 100% responsible for their child’s happiness. The RIE approach suggests parents need to be 100% attentive maybe 50% of the time, instead of the opposite. Every baby needs some 100% time as a foundation so they will feel safe to roll, crawl and walk away. And adults can actually get their needs met also.”

Memel expressed that the RIE philosophy allows for “lots of space and time for uninterrupted play,” which is absolutely supervised for true safety, but which also allows both babies and parents to just “be.” Pressure is replaced by the joy of watching our babies blossom and by concurrently yielding to discover our own core sense of self.

For example, in a RIE group, rather than handing a child a toy, a RIE Associate would allow a child to be within reach of certain simple toys, but to go after the toy of their choosing on their own. This allows the child to experience his or her own curiosity and incentive, as well as develop eye-hand coordination. Additionally, if a child is hurt (other than in cases of serious or potential danger) during the playing, parents are taught by the modeling of the Associate to come nearby and offer empathy, support and compassion, but to avoid overcharging the situation with their own fears and excessive reactions. A problem-solving child will gain a sense of competence if he or she is allowed to have a healthy amount of autonomy within a circle of trusted available support.

Memel said that while some things that her teacher, Gerber, said thirty years ago have become standard operating procedure taught to students getting their Early Childhood Education credits, “This is still very much a crisis field.” She said that “should’s” and fear mongering can make parents too anxious about when their child will attain a developmental milestone. The medical and deficit models also respond with a “We’ll fix it” attitude to many things that don’t need fixing, but rather just need time and space.

Memel put the problem into perspective when she cited a few things she has become aware of. For example, she was told about a Mommy and Me class where babies were shuttled across the room in a basket attached to something like a low hanging zip line. She said this is preposterous and would terrorize many children. She also mentioned recent news reports of very young children on psychotropic drugs, some as young as 18 months, possibly experiencing chronic misattunement in relationships with caregivers where no secure secondary attachment has been formed (Some daycare scenarios would prevent some children from obtaining the secure secondary attachment they need). In these examples, adult needs and interests, such as adult determinations of what fun might be, and adult wishes for adaptable children to accommodate the pressures of earning a living, are being considered far above the developmental needs of babies and children.

“When children are pushed throughout early childhood, there are problems. When babies get pushed, there are physical and mental problems. Everybody cares for babies based on how we see them. If we see them as less able objects we will treat them differently than if we see them as unique individuals and competent human beings.”

“These children raised with respect as humans have demonstrated much more empathy and compassion in group settings than their peers. RIE is helping to build confident, sensitive people with a strong sense of self.”

Liz wants to say "Thank you, Nancy, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER OF THE BUBBLE, for interviewing me and writing about the deep introspective view that Miller's works offer, sensing the relation to RIE's humanistic learning process for families. I have often recommended The Drama of the Gifted Child to parents in my classses and learn that they hold great value in its reading."

Oct 18, 2011

An Antidote for All Ages

A new mother in a parent/infant guidance class I facilitate asked what is to be thought of the advice given to a newborn’s parent to take the baby out a lot and “get her used to people and places” and stimulation so as not to spoil the baby. I asked her what she thought of this common recommendation. In her best self-aware moment she could determine that was a bad idea, really meant to serve the adult, definitely not the young baby. Yet she had seen others doing just this when she was pregnant and wondered about that commonly chosen path. Her wise conclusion then was it didn’t work for her family and she has since learned to be quite an advocate for the authentic needs, the natural rhythm of routines in the life of her growing young baby. She’s also working on meeting her own needs better, trying to find balance while embracing the accompanying requisite sacrifices.

The question remains, how will babies respond to early conditioning such as that popular myth recommends? In Mind in the Making, described by the NY Times as the “next iconic parenting manual, may be up there with Spock, Leach and Brazelton”, author Ellen Galinsky of the Work and Family Institute quotes research on how infants respond to new people, places and events, some with intense physical behavior and negative emotions. The result of the study evidenced that later in life, these are insecure inhibited children who show negative emotions and intense physical behavior when confronted with new experiences. It seems the baby’s amygdala gets overexcited, impairing connection with the pre-frontal cortex that enables children to respond to novelty and threat and then regulate their reaction. So for these babies, ability to self-regulate is not that effective, possibly due to early cortisol flooding. What will their future choices be in the realm of anti-social behavior? While genes may underlie a tendency toward this pattern, Galinsky’s book concludes that nurture surpasses nature, so parenting style makes a difference.

While too many theories and popular myths of child-raising focus on making children do or be something more than they are, infant specialist, teacher and author Magda Gerber argued the less we do the better, and suggested that many parents and caregivers try too hard. An excellent article in Atlantic magazine this past July describes this trap that may land “your kid in therapy,” written by a therapist and mother. I highly recommend it to anyone seeking more familial balance and boundaries, a perk I often say comes for those experiencing and learning the RIE philosophy.

Gerber’s EducaringTM Approach suggests infants should be left to explore a child-safe environment with minimal adult intervention, because “spontaneous, self-initiated activities have an essential value.  The pleasure evolving from exploration and mastery is self-reinforcing, and the infant becomes intrinsically motivated to learn.” [i] “If we help our children build confidence from infancy in their ability to learn, in their own sense of knowing what is best for them, then they will have the capacity to learn for a whole lifetime.”[ii]

But adults must also set aside quality time when they are present, what Magda Gerber called "Wants Nothing Quality Time", being simply available, watching and listening without judgment, thinking only of the child. A four month-old in RIE class just discovered his own “tummy time” and beamed with awe and delight at the sense of his own accomplishment, while his emoting mother observed her trusted baby figuring it out himself for the first time. According to Gerber, “We are conditioned to always be doing something. But it is very comforting to know the parent is there, really there, without the little person being under pressure to do something to keep the parent’s attention.”

Magda’s wisdom is a foundation for many stages of family development, with everyone’s true selves individually evolving rather than being pressured to perform in today’s world of helicopter parenting. Copied below please see an online essay written and posted recently by Dee Dee Myers, a parent in my classes who attended with her husband a number of years ago:
            “When my daughter was just shy of her first birthday, we joined a toddler class. Every week, a dozen or so parents and the instructor would quietly observe the children, in an effort to raise “authentic” and “competent” human beings, with a minimum of intervention.
            One afternoon, a little boy toppled off a slide and began to cry. His startled father hugged the child and said in a comforting tone, “You’re all right.” A moment passed. Then the instructor said, “Children don’t cry when they’re all right.” It seemed harsh at the time. But I soon realized that it wasn’t empathy that was being discouraged; it was telling even a small child what he was supposed to feel.
            Each week, the instructor would prepare a snack area on the floor. If a child wanted bananas and juice, he or she had to put aside the toys, sit down, and put on a bib. It was totally optional. But there were requirements. And it was astonishing to watch as these tiny children made their choices. Some went in for the snack in the first or second week. Others took longer. All of them got there eventually.
            I’ll never forget how I felt the first time my daughter had the snack. Crazy as it sounds, I was really moved by her little act of independence and the obvious satisfaction it gave her. Now, as my children near adolescence, I try to remember that I can guide them, but I can’t tell them what to think or feel. I can try to teach them to make good choices, but ultimately, they must be trusted to choose. And if they know what they want – if they can learn to recognize that special light inside themselves—and if they are brave enough to follow it—they will be satisfied.
            And that will be enough for me.”

Elul 1- August  31, 2011                                          Enough for Me by Dee Dee Myers


[i] Gerber, Magda. "Respecting Infants: The Loczy Model of Infant Care," Supporting the
Growth of Infants, Toddlers and Parents, E. Jones, ed., (Pacific Oaks, 1979).

[ii] Gerber, Magda. Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect. Resources for Infant Educarers, Los Angeles, 1987.

May 8, 2011

“To Liz – with great thanks for your wisdom. My children and I are forever grateful!” "I think RIE should be a national program so that parents all over the country can have the opportunity that my family had." —Dee Dee Myers, Author, Editor and Commentator; Former White House Press Secretary