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