Today was the 5th day of RIE Foundations and the final day of the first week of this course. It has been an intensive week of learning, clarifying, understanding and internalising how to be a respectful parent.
Over this week I have bonded with a group of 7 other ladies and our wonderful facilitators, Deborah Carlisle Solomon and Michelle who all have the common goal of seeing children treated with respect. It’s been quite a surreal experience with a healthy mix of tears, laughter and debate which has had my head in a whirl. I am grateful for the next two days of quiet, where I can poke my head back out into the real world and contemplate all that has been thrown my way.
In class today, though, we continued to examine respectful care giving practices such as bathing, diapering, dressing and feeding. Along with learning how each of these tasks can be carried out in such a way that a child feels loved and respected, the topic of cooperation and testing came up several times and I want to share my thoughts on what we learned.
Would you believe that young babies are wired to cooperate from the beginning? It can be hard to imagine that a newborn or even an infant would be able to not only understand what it is they are being asked to do but to also respond, but they can when given a chance.
Even the youngest baby begins to hear their care giver and react to cues in their voice and hands. A baby diapered in the same way and by the same care giver each time, and who has been invited to participate in a kind, gentle voice, will soon learn to cooperate and take part in her care. When asked to lift her bottom to place a diaper underneath, given time, the young baby might move her leg or tense her torso in readiness.
An infant told before hand that she is about to be picked up will, when given a short amount of time to process, brace her body and lift her chin and an older baby might stretch out her arms.
As a baby grows, she will be able to participate and show her cooperation more and more, especially when she has been invited to do so from the beginning and each task has been worked through slowly with predictable routines and plenty of time for connection on each occasion.
This level of cooperation will, inevitably, vary from time to time as baby grows. An inquisitive child will begin to notice things around her early on and this curiosity doesn’t automatically switch off when she is being fed, bathed or changed. It may be necessary to pause the care giving momentarily to acknowledge what has caught baby’s attention before inviting her to continue the task at hand.
Sometimes, the child may not respond even after time has been given and it is up to the parent to continue the task slowly but purposefully, trusting that the child will return to the task when they are ready. The parent may need to pause several times in this way to keep inviting the child back to the task as appropriate.
It could be also that the care giver needs to slow down a little or be more responsive to the child and her thoughts, ideas and needs. There is a healthy balance to be found where the task gets completed in a satisfactory amount of time – we don’t want to sit around all day to wait until she is ready – and finding true connection with the child through a slow and accepting interaction.
To further garner cooperation from a child, and this is especially important as they get older, it is important that a child’s day is not full of instructions.
Creating a safe, gated environment or what Janet Lansbury calls a Yes Space for the child, means that in the periods between care giving activities or other times you want cooperation from your child, she is free to play and explore at will. She is not constantly being directed or redirected. She does not frequently hear “No!” or “Don’t do that!”and she is not always being instructed on how she should play or what her exploration should look like. This can make children more eager to cooperate in those times that we really do want or need something from them.
It is immeasurably more difficult to illicit cooperation from a child who has previously never been invited to do so. It will take some time to help this child learn not only her own expectations and desires around care giving moments, but the adult’s also. Similarly, a child who spends her days being instructed and directed will find it more difficult to cooperate as she seeks to assert her will and autonomy.
Today’s lesson was a powerful one for me as I am frequently in battle with my children over such matters. I feel I need to reflect on how much direction they receive from me in a day and how I can ensure they feel a connection as we go through care-giving activities together. I know that remedying these two things will help them feel more at ease with cooperating and less needing to test and make things difficult.
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