Aug 31, 2013


“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…