This is a draft of a new project I am dreaming of: creating little poems and illustrations to share with infants and young children before going to bed. Hope you enjoy it`s simple outline and sweetness .
Have you ever seen a toddler misbehave? I thought I had. A thousand times.
And I have a clear idea of why this has happened: I was blind.
Blind to really see beyond my own projection, perception and understanding.
Early childhood “misbehavior” is an adult conception, a rational explanation of those poorly rated attitudes, responses and experiments babies and infants conduct.
Generally and repeatedly considered by adults as inadequate, improper, bad or mean, infants meet their needs many times under stress (and shame).
Being the cost so high, why do they insist in doing so?
My hypothesis is: because they have an inner urge to fulfill.
It is generally easy to approve, respect and encourage babies endaveours when they meet adult standards and expectations: a 2 months old baby smiling to human faces, a 7 months old baby sitting straight on his own, a 12 months baby starting to walk by himself, an 18 months old baby saying her first words, a 24 months old toddler that is willing to be potty trained or a 30 months old toddler that smoothly exchanges his toys and biscuits with a play friend and kisses granny goodby with a big “thank you for the visit” hug…
Anyhow, what happens when a baby does not smile but cries, does not sit, walk, talk or get potty trained when adults expect them to do so? And what about a toddler that refuses to indulge adults requests (or threats) for social correctness?
Is he biting? Is she throwing tantrums? Are they not listening, not paying heed and (in general) not behaving as adults expect? Instead of seeing this as a challenging behavior we can drive our understanding towards a much better question: are they meeting a developmental need by doing what they do? Which one?
This question opens a wide range of responses that will completely modify the actions we adults take when facing such challenges…
Is a 30 months old girl pouring water all over? She may be needing to transfer liquids to understand fluids inter exchange in her own body, preparing herself for potty training. What about offering her enough play time in the bath tub (if weather is cold) or in the play ground?
Is a 24 months old boy saying “no” to every request his mother states? He may be needing to consolidate his “I” image as a separate individual by getting oppositional to every parental request. What about offering him a firm, calm limit (“you have to put your shoes on now”) AND an option so he can feel he is the one who is choosing (which color of shoes he is going to wear)?
Is an 18 months old baby repeatedly climbing the dinner table despite being said not to do so? She may be needing to reinforce the neurological wiring illumined when practising climbing coordination skills. What about taking her long enough to a playground where climbing games are available or setting a safe climbing game in her play area?
Children generally “misbehave” when they don´t find the opportunity to meet their needs in a safe, respectful, free play environment. They do it anyway, anywhere, with what they find at hand. And what do we adults say about that? “Uhm… here is the little naughty one”.
But what would happen if we shift the perspective and question ourselves: “Uhm… am I offering this child an adequate environment to meet his needs?”
Thinking this way, responsibility transfers from kid to adult. We are made responsible, which is good news, because it means we can find effective and intentional ways to offer children (and ourselves) a more fulfilling and harmonious experience.
After years of observation I have come to know everything a baby and toddler does is intended towards one direction, aiming at one very same goal. And this is so because there is only one ultimate good guiding every child behaviour as a compass: fulfilling the innate urge to unfold their humanness.
And I have good reasons to think that this is not only a cultural but also a biological impulse.
There are innumerable examples in my daily work that support this approach. I have picked some of these observations as study cases and compiled them under the “Misbehavior Files Series” in my best aim to narrate a Sherlock Holmes kind of detective educational adventure.
Would you join in solving the childhood discipline mystery puzzle?
Then know this post is just an introduction. Stay tuned, the good stuff is yet to come.
rest on the keyboard
wait for instructions
emerge and write
Stop the flow,
Back on my butt
searching the guts
India… Ah! Here it comes!
Remember my love,
remember when we met?
You thought I was so vain
(you are always right).
I thought you were out of your mind
(I wasn’t that right, I never am).
We crashed in the bad way
Soft and tumultuously
sparks from your spirit
light my sari as a river
an irrepressible force
an impetuous course
man and woman
reaching our central core.
Not enough poems, no praise, no song,
no, are not enough to express my love.
laughter above pain / you, funny cow
trust beyond anger / you, wise cow
compassion over pride / you, guru cow
respect built and re-found / you, seeker cow
At least a list, dear husband,
Minimal remembrances of pure delight.
I felt like crying many times lately for I can’t find an answer to a question that really disturbs me. So this is somewhat a catharsis. Hope you understand.
I offer playgroups for early childhood in Castelar, Argentina.
More and more parents ask me:
“Why nobody else works the way you do?”
Do you know what I do? I follow Magda Gerber´s teachings.
I wait, wait and wait.
I trust every child.
I don´t interrupt a playing child.
I let them cry out their feelings in a safe environment.
I broadcast their social efforts to interact with each other.
I nurture children´s trust setting limits. Lots of firm, calm limits. As many as I can and as soon as possible without feeling emotionally involved.
Then I say “I wont let you hit, you can trust me”. I trust the child and the child trusts me. Eventually they hit. Most of the time they wont.They are so happy.
Parents are there and listen.
So they ask me:
“Why nobody else works like you do? What you do is healing and rewarding and it is so different from what we see at educational facilities. It really helps us and helps our children”.
I am pretty sure I am not an educational savior.
I am no genius.
I am no hero but zero: the less I do, the better it goes.
I am sure there are many people working the way I do.
But I guess is not enough.
So little children come to my playgroup after being expelled from kindergarten at the age of 4 for the mere reason of not being conformists. For not complying with an educational system that does not respond to their real developmental needs.
Little children have been told they are inadequate for being different. So they have to go to the psychologist. The psychologist sends them to my playgroup.
And do you know what happens?
They get better. Much, much better. Because they are accepted as they are. Because they are not told their own and unique way of being is inadequate.
Of course I have studied. Of course I am a professional.
But I am not special, I have no magic.
So my heart burns and my voice cries out a question I can find no answer yet:
– Why? Why aren´t there more people working the way I do?
You don´t need much. Just a heart in your chest and a renewed vision in your mind.
It was Saturday morning and my husband had gone to work to the Capital City driving our car. (We are a one car family – which is great because we were a no car family for some time and it gets tough to move around with three kids).
Anyhow, I had no car and around 10 AM my PC collapsed. I thought it could be easily repaired so I went to our local commercial center by bus. Two kids and the big PC case came with me. When I was stepping down from the bus, the big case covered my visual field, the floor was not flat, my ankle twisted and I fell down crashing the other leg knee strongly against the floor. Many buses in Argentina do have really stiff climbing steps so I fell down from a considerable height. (The upper photo shows it clearly).
The only thing I knew was I was suffering a tremendous pain in both my legs.
In the meanwhile, the PC case flew in the air banging against the sidewalk.
The bus dirver did not move.
My kids stepped down after me.
The little one was crying.
The bus supervisor started arguing with a lady passenger.
Two really big guys held me from both sides trying to set me on my feet.
I wished I were alone, nobody around me, to suffer my pain in peace. But I had to react and respond, speak and set limits, protect and comfort.
– Don´t pull me up, was the first I could say. I cannot stand.
– You two, stop arguing. (Their emotional energy was pouring over my head and it really disturbed me).
– Little one, come here. Mama got hurt but I will be ok. Sit on my lap.
It demanded me so much energy, so much experience, so much love to say those three sentences under those circumstances!
Slowly pain decreased, my good friend Irene picked me up, brought me home, placed a bandage and arnica cream on the swelled foot.
Time and patience did the rest.
I am ok now, just the right ankle must rest high for some more days and my mother / teacher heart must remember.
My own children and my little students.
The youngest are 18 months, 2 and 3 years old. The more they learned to move independently and the more they grew in a safe caring environment, the less they get hurt or fall down. But still they go through this experience quite more often than we adults do.
Here and then they have an accident. And once and again it hurts.
What happens when a toddler falls down?
Does anyone wait for a child to overcome pain, comforting and allowing him or her to stay where he or she fell down as long as needed?
Do parents argue instead of assisting and comforting the hurt child? (“Where where you? Why did you let him fall?”… I have seen many parents fighting out of fear, their emotions set in the first place overwhelming the already stressed child).
Do infants have to “care” for the adult´s feelings?
A week later my little students came back to play. I told them what happened in a serene way, using few words, sharing my life with them.
Amber (2) pulled up her trouser and showed me her knee wound. She understood me well.
Benjamin (18mo) said “PUM!” and held his forehead adding sorround sound to my story.
Big Bus, commented Mily offering a sense of size.
Martin (20mo) went to his mom and retold her the story. He broadcasted the experience to the general public.
Sophie said: “wate, wate”.
– Are still you thirsty?
– Yes, she answered.
Mily had left the table to pick a soft ball next to Martin who already played with a transparent jar.
Life went on.
I poured a little water in Sophie´s glass and gratitude expanded within myself.
Feeling understood is such a wonderful experience…
And they understood me so well… They really did.
This is my early childhood educational center after the last playgroup meeting yesterday.
Done by kids age 3 to 6.
In Cooperation. Concentration. Contemplation.
Believe me. I really appreciate it. With all my heart.
However, I had the intention to untangle the whole thing to be able to reach the entrance in a straight line, without having to sort “snakes”, “laser rays”, “time machines” and “time tunnels”.
My kids begged me not to.
– Boys, I can barely walk here, I said.
– We know!, middle one agreed in a gleeful mood, his eyes sparkling true enthusiasm. – That´s the best of it!
You can stay at the shore, denying pearls exist.
Or you can dive into the sea, and find out the truth.
I admit I am a passionate woman and this is a passionate post. A post about a woman who turned to be an amazing friend although I didn´t get the chance to meet her in person. A post about the journey I started guided by her words. And about my gratitude for what I found following her path.
I met her around 4 years ago. Our encounter started softly, as a shy relationship. Somehow I came across her name… I don´t know how it happened nor when I read about her for the first time. Never mind. The fact is it happened.
Magda Gerber, a Hungarian infant specialist came into my life. And changed me. As a mother, as a wife, as an educationist, as a parent advisor, as a human being.
In my working space I offer playgroups for babies and infants based on the free education movement. I particularly base my work on the research conducted by Dr. Emmi Pikler and the parenting philosophy provided by Magda Gerber at RIE.
Even when the playgroups are oriented to babies and infants, I notice a clear need in parents for guidance and help.
“How do you do it?”, they ask me. “You are respectful and loving. You don´t shout, you don´t scold, you don´t neither punish nor lose your temper at ANY time and toddlers play in such a self-regulated and harmonious way!”
They believe I am a magician (lol!). Just imagine… some hocus pocus here, some fairy dust there and, voilá! A peaceful active and engaged toddler playgroup emerges. But I know nothing about magic (ups!). Sorry to confess that. My only secret is this: I took to heart the treasure that Magda Gerber has left in her Educaring approach.
When I first read Magda Gerber, something deep within told me it was a great discovery. I didn´t have the need for further research to support what I found. None could have been better than my own, clear, intense and heartfelt understanding: her vision is TRUE. Or even better: her vision offered me a link to my inner TRUTH.
It is not about a theory. It´s about life expanding under a new light.
In my work field I have observed how much guilt parents feel when they cannot strictly follow this or that theory they´ve been recommended as the best one for rearing their babies, which is a real pity because guilt deprives parenting from the joy of being intuitional and respectful to oneself (and therefore to the rest of the world, starting with our babies).
In some cases, intelligent, loving parents even put their babies into real danger (physical danger I mean, such as driving with a baby on the lap or carrying a baby while dealing with boiling water on a stove) because they cannot stand hearing them cry. They know they are doing wrong, still they feel lost. When they ask me for help, we have noticed that having read about attachment parenting and brain damage caused by intense crying was a main influence on their risky decision.
Of course, sleep and limits are also always present in my playgroups parent´s agenda. In an endless insomniac chain of desperate days they have read all what they found on the topic and have tried a bunch of methods. Even when they really want it (and need it), still they can´t put their toddlers to sleep in their own beds and they feel lost in the quicksand of confusion when facing their children´s need for limits.
Since they trust me, they tend to ask for help (they still think I have some magic powder somewhere – I have none, I insist). When I listen to their questions, I tune in. I check my own experiences. I accept them, share them and let them go. Then I connect: what would Magda have answered? God! I don´t know! So I wait… And trust…
I let her words come to me. What did she say related to the particular issue? That´s the lifesaving device that always helps. Parents start nodding in acknowledgment. They get touched. Usually this is enough for them to find their own way through. They start verbalizing themselves their own answers! And I feel a tremendous gratitude.
Differently from other theories, Gerber offers a philosophy, a way of questioning, understanding and interpreting infant education. If you just analyze it from “outside”, without testing it, you may criticize many topics, especially if they are taken out of context (such as misinterpreting “not immediately picking up a crying baby” as “abandonment”, or “not carrying babies” as “underestimating skin to skin contact”).
Accessing to a knowledge that points beyond the regular social standards tends to be generally criticized, because it won´t fit into social accepted ideas of what is Truth. If you stay in that realm, you´d probably find lots of reasonable arguments to judge her approach and even think her philosophy is “outdated”, old-fashioned… as some people do say.
I´m convinced this is simple vain talk, just as staying in the shore, denying the existence of pearls. She was way advanced in the front line of humane vanguard.
But if you dive into Gerber´s vision, if you test it and get really soaked with its principles, that´s quite a different experience. Being it so wonderful, why is not everyone joining in, then?
I guess the hard part of Magda Gerber´s approach is that we, adults, need to reteach ourselves. At least this is what her magic guided me to
- relearn how to WAIT for life´s perfect timing, instead of pressuring into it,
- relearn how to RESPECT in a deep humane way beyond stereotypes and age gaps,
- relearn how to ACKNOWLEDGE and ACCEPT .
Imagine a world ruled under these statements. If we are in any way expanding into an evolutionary process, I would sow for a future guided by these principles. I cannot think of a better way to define LOVE.
She saw that future. She found the pathway to a better world by respecting life from the very beginning.
She did it for babies.
She did it for us.
So the other day, when my heart jumped in joy (one more time) while observing and working with peaceful, happy babies, toddlers and parents I could only say: Hey! There was some magic here after all, but it is not mine… it belongs to her.
Thank you Magda! May this be my humble tribute to you.