When I first became a mom it didn’t occur to me that I might have to learn how to show my newborn a little more respect.
First, and this is arrogant of me I know, she was a newborn! A baby! What more respect did she need in addition to my constant love and care?
Second, there’s a little voice in my head that tells me people have to earn respect. They have to DO something to get it, right? And what was my baby doing other than eating, sleeping, and pooping? Again, arrogant, I know, but it helps to remind myself I was coming from a place of ignorance and not a complete disregard for my baby’s abilities, intelligence, and autonomy
Then I stumbled across Magda Gerber’s parenting principles and the organization she founded, Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE). While I personally do not subscribe to all of her parenting philosophies, I definitely took a few to heart and incorporated them in my own way with my little one. Here’s how:
1. Guide Baby through the world
Imagine yourself torn one day from your comfy, warm home and thrown into a foreign land where lights are super bright, sounds are loud and unexpected, and giants pick you up and move you around with no warning. Sounds scary, and maybe a little frustrating, right? At the very least wouldn’t you want some sort of guide to help you through the strangeness?
Be your baby’s guide. Move more slowly. Talk her through things. Tell her where she is (in your arms), where she’s going (onto the changing table), and what’s going to happen next (a cold, wet cloth is about to touch her bottom). It may feel silly at first, talking to someone who doesn’t talk back, but she’s a human being. She has a right to know where she is, where she’s going, and what’s about to happen to her…doesn’t she?
2. Speak authentically
Seriously, from day 1. Of course you’ll probably speak more slowly and with your voice at a higher pitch (called “Parentese” by the way), but ditch that goofy, nonsensical baby talk (“Yoo da cootest witto baby in da wold!”). Baby talk can delay speech, and it teaches baby the wrong words and wrong pronunciation.
If you keep telling her, “I wuv my widdo baby!” she won’t recognize the words “love” or “little” as she gets older. Again, she’s a human being. Speak to her like one. And speak TO her (“You look tired.”), not about her in the third person (“Awww, baby looks tired!”). She’s right there in front of you. Acknowledge her as a complete, whole, fellow human. You would never talk directly to anyone else in the third person.
3. Give Baby your full attention
When you’re changing her diaper, bathing her, or changing her clothes these are opportunities for you to bond with and get to know your child. Guide her through it, tell her exactly what she’s going to experience, AND really be there with her. Enjoy her facial expressions. Notice what she likes and doesn’t like. Tickle her little toes. It’ll make your day-to-day tasks so much more fun and meaningful!
4. Honor Baby’s abilities
Baby’s body and innate wisdom nothing short of miracles. Their capacity to learn is unparalleled. Respecting these things about them means offering them opportunities for free play and self-reflection (in those moments when they’re not specifically asking to connect with you through their eye contact and body language).
As a newborn, my daughter was often happy laying on her papa’s chest observing the world around her. She didn’t need a lot of stimulation. This big, new world was enough! As she’s gotten older she’s content to examine toys on her own and wonder at the shapes and colors of things without me showing her “how” to play or having to entertain her. Trust me. Letting your child grow into a toddler who can enjoy the wonder of life on their own is a good thing! It fosters independence for them and more free time for you!
5. Allow and honor her emotions
Yes, babies have emotions. Can’t you tell? It’s quite obvious. You can hear it in their screams, see it on their faces, feel it in their body language. They’re not familiar with these things called emotions so giving them names and acknowledging them as often as possible (“I see you’re upset. It must be frustrating to not be able to move your hands the way you want to.”) tells them what they feel is valid, normal, and important.
If you’ve ever been upset and had your best friend or partner tell you, “It’s no big deal. You’re fine,” you know how important this is. Help baby identify her feelings, and let her feel them. Let her know it’s okay to feel them even though they’re scary, and that you will give her a safe space to feel them. It’s one of the most loving gifts you can give her.
Image credit: Baby and Mom, by Kaeru Sand via Flickr.com