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


 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."