Apr 3, 2011

Babies of Differing Points of View

One of the most influential practices of Magda Gerber's Educaringtm Approach is perspective taking and its complement, perspective giving. Watch how these two babies in a current RIE Parent-Infant Guidance Class of mine wonder what the other experiences during play. Has he begun to think about what interests her as well as what he wants himself? When and where have they both learned to observe and respond to another's point of view? From birth babies can be educated to know that other people think; theory of mind develops early in childhood when given the vantage point of another's perspective on the matter at hand. We Educarers develop collaborative relationships with the youngest child because we have confidence in and see infants as competent human beings whose point of view matters.

The theme of last week’s California early childhood statewide conference in Sacramento, “We’re Better Together: Collaborating to Improve the Lives of Children,” led me right to RIE’s fundamental topic for my SRO workshop presentation on self-awareness. The participants found out that their infant care provider role - to facilitate development of an active child who is challenged by problems, enjoys her autonomy and trusts adults to responsively support her full self-expression, thereby fostering her inborn disposition to learn – is perfectly supported by the Educarer model. What’s especially exciting is that recent years of vast neurobiological research and numerous current publications, such as a year-old book for parents and teachers, "Mind in the Making", are firmly providing the science behind the RIE philosophy of respectful, responsive and reciprocal care. In this book, Ellen Galinsky advises encouraging “young children to think about people’s responses to everyday situations.”

Galinksy lists “perspective taking” in second place for the “seven essential skills every child needs,” since “understanding how language works requires understanding something about what other people are thinking.” I have the impression she is not talking about babies, and what better a venue for an everyday situation than diapering and dressing a baby?

I respectfully add “perspective giving”, a communicative pattern of rapport that RIE-aware adults come to understand and value as do their babies when being communicated to about what will happen next and then given time to respond. During the 100% attentive caregiving, “those consistent, everyday predictable routines” are defined as “Wants Something Quality Time” by Gerber. During these routines the energy exchange between the attentive baby and the observing adult, especially when eye contact is made, allows mirror neurons to fire, playing “a central role in the development of human empathy beginning almost from birth in well-cared-for children.” (Marco Iacobini at UCLA, America’s leading expert on [mirror neurons] existence and function). This kind of trust-building connection makes for a humane being, one who owns a sense of worthiness and compassion for being kind to oneself first and then others. “Seeing eye to eye opens a pathway for empathy…attunement is attention that goes beyond momentary empathy to a full sustained presence that facilitates rapport. We offer a person our total attention and listen fully.” (Social Intelligence). Daniel Goleman, author of that and his earlier Emotional Intelligence, writes “children learn these lessons and typically master…basic empathy in the fourth year…”

Even earlier than that, according to families involved in RIE Programs.The perspective giving and taking these babies in my video are doing all by themselves can be attributed to their trusted relationship with each other and with the adults who know them to be initiators, explorers, and self-learners. (RIE’s Prinicple #1) No doubt they’re gaining mental health, feeling respected and secure, making pro-social choices, learning not to jump to conclusions about another’s behavior,  shaping memories and sensing future happenings, all leading to better adjustment in life. It is most affirming that every single one of the seven skills in Mind in the Making is exactly what infants are shown to develop when raised with RIE's Educaringtm Approach of respect for their authentic expression. 

Look again and see deeply how those two babies are already demonstrating all seven:  
1) Focus and self-control, 2) Perspective taking, 3) Communicating, 4) Making connections, 5) Critical thinking, 6) Taking on challenges and 7) Self-directed, engaged learning.