Consult baby before changing nappy

With fewer babies around these days, scientists and assorted experts are paying them more attention than ever before. One theory with a growing number of disciples is based on the idea that one should treat babies like little adults, consulting them before changing a nappy or taking them on outings.

Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) first took hold in Los Angeles (of course) in 1980, but has Hungarian roots. One of its exponents, Polly Elam, is in New Zealand right now running seminars at $125 a head for Kiwi parents and childcare staff. RIE is catching on here and centres using it have had glowing reports from the government’s education watchdog, the Education Review Office.

What’s familiar in the programme is the idea that babies and toddlers should learn at their own pace, not be prompted and coached -- by, for example, pushing them to start rolling over, or taking their hand and doing it for them when they are slow to wave goodbye to grandma. Also the idea that they should be allowed to explore freely at home rather than restrained in highchairs and so on.

What sounds new is the consultation bit: “Now, Chloe, it is time I changed your nappy so I am going to lie you down on this table and etc etc.” After that you must wait for baby’s response (maybe she will gurgle and kick in anticipation, or howl in protest…) before going ahead. If you miss these steps you should apologise to baby and explain why you acted hastily. And no baby talk, thank you, just normal adult speech.

Then there’s the “no praise” rule: no “Good girl!” when she learns to pick up something she has dropped. And the “no shush” rule when she hurts herself: no “There, there precious! Mummy will kiss it all better.”

Elam says: "We try not to praise the child for things that they would do naturally ... a little bit of struggle is what a child enjoys doing. When they have accomplished something, we want them to have the intrinsic feeling of, `I did it!', rather than looking for the external praise." Likewise, if an infant falls and hurts themselves, parents should not just shush them and tell them they are fine. "They're not fine – they're frightened, and so we'd rather say what happened: `You fell down the steps, and that was frightening for you'... We don't deny the child the feeling. We often want the child to stop crying because it makes us feel more secure, but we've got to allow them to go through the crying and come out the other side knowing `I can get hurt, I can cry but I can also come out'. That's a life-long lesson that we want them to learn."

Well, I know very little about child-rearing, but it strikes me that, while there’s some truth in all this advice -- you don’t need to hover and cluck over little children all the time -- it underestimates the importance of intimacy with the mother in the child’s early development. Sounds like great training for little ones who are going to spend their days in childcare, though.

There's some other advice in this study released by the Association for Psychological Science also, about why you should not teach a toddler self-control, but I'm blessed if I can understand their explanation. Can you?


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