It is Day 8 of RIE Foundations today and as I begin anticipating the end of the course I am left with mixed emotions. I feel complete and utter sadness that I will be leaving this safe RIE bubble that has been created for me by our facilitator, Deborah Carlisle Solomon and her intern Michelle along with the 7 other women who have together made this experience an altogether enriching one. But I also feel excitement at what lies ahead when I return to my homeland with newly acquired understandings and a massive spring in my step.
We spent much of today reflecting on the parent-infant classes we have observed over the past few days. There were several things that stood out for me from our long and deep discussions so I thought I might deviate a little from my usual style and write up each point and what I took away from it.
We spoke a little about the many parents who use sign language to strengthen communication between themselves and the child. Whilst it was agreed that there may be some cases where sign language could help a parent who was really struggling to confidently understand their baby’s needs, we learned that there is value in hanging in there with a crying or fussing baby. Saying “I hear. You are really trying to tell me something and I just can’t understand.” And then working through the possible reasons – pain, hunger, tiredness, temperature, over-stimulation, needing connection etc.
It reminded me of this article by Janet Lansbury. Crying is a baby’s form of communication. It is not unhealthy for a baby to cry and there is value in the struggles they have at times. It is okay for them to experience frustration but amidst that, hopefully what they also hear is the message that their parent is listening to them and taking some time to work with them and truly understand their upset. It takes the relationship to a deeper level somehow.
There is No Formula
We talked about our understanding of the RIE values and how it can be easy to apply the principles on a surface level but when you take in the complexity and uniqueness of each and every situation, you can really see how deep our understandings must go.
For example, in classes, we observed children climbing onto play structures. These structures were not high and very safe for children but there was a certain risk element to them. A child could take a tumble and be upset. Sometimes, a facilitator would move close and simply state “I came close.” This was usually in instances where, the facilitator knew it was the child’s first time on the apparatus or where she felt the parents might have been a bit anxious seeing their child on the equipment. For other children, she would stay back and let them navigate freely.
It demonstrated that there is no one size fits all model in RIE. There is no formula to rely upon. Each child carries with them their own set of circumstances and the way we act and the things we say are not going to be the same for everyone. Each situation must be evaluated and for responses to be respectful they must take in the whole picture.
Talking About Children Respectfully
We discussed the topic of talking about children when they were within ear shot. It was clear to us that this is something that is difficult to avoid sometimes, especially in the parent-infant classes when many of the situations which arise become teachable moments for the parents. In these moments it becomes necessary for the children to be spoken about using detail.
When we use a child’s name, however, it cues him in to the fact he is being spoken about. This doesn’t just apply to older children, even young babies can recognise their names and know when the conversation is about them. It can be distracting for a baby and must feel disconcerting to know they are being spoken about and analysed. So it is vital to be mindful of this when these discussions need to happen.
Deborah uses clothing to identify a child when describing a situation “When green shirt fell…” etc. This doesn’t cue a baby in as easily but it certainly doesn’t safeguard against him knowing he is being spoken about. If he appears interested in the conversation, it is respectful to acknowledge that by saying to him, “We are talking about when you fell down before. You got upset”.
Deborah explained that when some parents talk about children, they often have a tendency to do so in a negative tone like “Oh, I’m sorry for being late. X was so difficult this morning, you wouldn’t believe…” Children hear these words, they can also read the tone and it impacts their trust and their relationship they have with their parent.
In class, we noticed several of the children would do things in play and constantly refer to their parents for approval, kind of like “Look at me, see what I did?” It is important, as parents to appreciate children in play but not to pass judgement about their play or go over the top with enthusiasm towards what they have done. It doesn’t mean we stonewall our children. Being authentic and sharing in their excitement is great but less is more.
A child at play is an explorer and a scientist, not a performer. If they look to us to see what we think about them stacking the blocks we can say “Oh, yeah, (with genuine appreciation) you stacked your blocks. You seem pretty pleased about that.” or “Yeah, wow, you put that together.” If we pass judgement, they will always feel the need to refer to us to see if we seem pleased.
We are delving into this more tomorrow but there was one thing we touched on which I wanted to share. When setting limits, body language is just as key as words. It is best to keep words to a minimum and not to keep repeating the limit or what you will or won’t let them do. For example, in one class, a young child was curious about a socket on the wall. Deborah stated “I don’t want you to touch that.” The child persisted. Deborah sat against the wall, beside the socket with her hand over it. She did not engage with the child more than saying those initial words. The girl tried to get to the socket for about 10 more seconds but gave up and crawled over to a nearby toy to explore it.
This was also a great lesson in the less is more approach and I finally saw what it meant not to give something power or to engage in a power struggle.
Reflect, Respect, Respond
I’ll finish with these three words spoken by Magda Gerber.
In all situations, when looking to intervene with a child reflect on the circumstances – What can you see? What do you know? Respect that a baby is competent and consider what they CAN do rather than what they can’t. And Respond accordingly. And a response may mean that you do not do anything. Not everything needs an intervention.
I felt like this would be a good mantra to have when wanting to slow down and learn more about a baby’s competence and tolerance. Often parents assume something bad will happen and jump in before providing the opportunity to have it play out. If we can reflect and respect before we respond, we may just be surprised at what we observe.