The Question “Okay, so what do I do?” is the great challenge for all parents.
First, know you’ll figure it out. Just by reading this you’re showing you care, and you’re likely to follow our Golden Rule of “Show up and Pay Attention.”
And sometime you’ll recall the words of a teacher – a specific move, other times a general principle.
In all disciplines, great teachers simplify, clarify and motivate. Responsible people who have devoted their lives to sharing their expertise have so much to offer – and Yes, the wisdom of your old football coach can apply to your parenting challenges, as can the body language best practices of Premier League Soccer Referees.
This section is a lot to read, but it also home to the good stuff – it goes into detail on the work of great teachers
Three Awesome Women:
Dr Emmi Pikler, her student Magda Gerber, and her Student Janet Lansbury
Three Amazing Old Dudes:
Socrates, who inspired Epictetus, who inspired Marcus Aurelius
Teachers I: Pikler & Gerber
Emmi Pikler was a pediatrician who declared that infants were people with capabilities & rights, the respect of which leads to better behavior and better outcomes. Pikler’s guidelines and specific instructions for caring for infants and toddlers were workshopped at Lóczy, the orphanage she ran in Budapest starting just after WWII. Google “Pikler” and you’ll see her invention “the Pikler Triangle” that kids from three months to 6 years can play on – it’s simple, elegant, and versatile – like her thinking.
Pikler provoked: she made films mocking clueless adults, and gave her books snide titles like “So what can your baby do now?”
Magda Gerber was a linguist who met Dr. Pikler when taking her daughter to a doctor visit in the 1930s. Gerber worked closely with Pikler at Lóczy until emigrating to the US as a refugee in 1957. She worked in public health, focusing on helping adults connect to autistic kids. A Stanford Med School professor (Dr. Tom Forrest) and she started an adult-communication skills program that became RIE (pron “Rye”) in 1978; it has since become a standard for infant care. [*Note: acclaimed by researchers and educators – used in Early Headstart & the US Military.]
Gerber’s RIE “classes” offered no formal instruction. Parents put their babies down and watched them closely. The Goal was creating a safe, quiet environment; to slow down, pay attention, and allow the infants to move and play in their own way… which even then was contrary to the pace of society or the focus of much parenting activity.
The works of Pikler and Gerber shows how adult’s habits of interaction create the child’s environment, where the child forms their own “self” through experimentation and exploration.
Pikler’s Insight: Movement is the Brain’s First Language
Dr. Pikler focused on the baby’s first work – learning to move. She recognized it as the crux of mental development – the first important learning that develops confidence and self-mastery. (Mental Wealth!) Pikler saw parents “teaching” their infants to sit, stand and walk before they were able to do so on their own, causing the infants to do something different than they would have if allowed to lead their own self-discovery. Pikler saw these adult actions as distrust of the child’s abilities at a crucial time. She said young children should not be “taught” motor skills, but instead should be allowed gradually to come into the vertical positions of sitting and standing entirely through their own efforts, “so that they may grow and develop in security, relationship to others, and self-mastery.” [* Note needed *]
Pikler reminds us that children have a built-in capacity to direct their own learning, if given the time and space to do so. In fact, when it comes to directing learning, each child is infinitely more qualified than any adult. (This makes sense: all horses learn to run beautifully, and nobody “teaches” them. Similarly, a baby who sits herself up, by herself, when she is ready will have perfect posture, while a baby propped up to “sit” before their core strength and balance are ready teeters uncomfortably: imagine being that child – which approach is better for building confidence and self-mastery?)
The Pikler philosophy aims for 1) a respectful relationship between parent and child and 2) natural-paced motor development, free movement, and uninterrupted play. Because babies have the built in ability to guide their own development, parents need to learn to overcome their instinct to “help” and take a back seat, allowing their little ones to be free to explore on their own.
Baby’s early moving stages are a key time for parent learning, too – as the child’s growth and learning are visible. It’s the first and best time for adults to recognize that they need to back the F. off! [(a simple rule from Pikler is “Never put your child in a position they can’t get into by themselves.” )]
Think of what you see many parents doing, instead: fussing, worrying, entertaining, negotiating… What do most habitual parent statements say to kids? What is it like to play with the words “be careful” repeated again and again – how does that affect the trust level in the parent/child relationship? What is the benefit to the child of constantly getting messages of “you need my help” or “You should be fearful” or “you are not capable?”
Pilker’s Gift to Adults: View of the Child
Pikler’s gift applies to all early learning, not just movement: Your Child is Competent. They are good at doing their work. They are good at being babies, or toddlers – perfectly ready to handle what comes naturally for their stage – in all types of learning. When adults recognize this, people get along better, and things go better: the children’s feeling of competence grows as they initiate and independently master their physical environment and social relationships. Before you let anyone “help” your child learn how to move, hear Pikler:
While learning … to turn on the belly, to roll, creep, sit, stand and walk, (the baby) is not only learning those movements but also how to learn. He learns to do something on his own, to be interested, to try out, to experiment. He learns to overcome difficulties. He comes to know the joy and satisfaction which is derived from this success, the result of his patience and persistence. [* Note(Emmi Pikler – as cited in Falk & Roche, 1994, p.12)]
Gerber’s Method – Showing Adults their Role
Gerber did not consider herself a coach. She offered a method for teaching parents habits of mindful interaction – to create the environment for physical and mental growth that results in a confident, competent and curious child. The child is never treated like an object, but as a person who feels, observes, remembers and understands – or will understand, if given the chance. Care is consistent across all involved adults, and intentions are announced, so the baby knows what to expect. Babies and young children are trusted to figure things out. They are really good at being babies. See them where they are – which is freely and fully in their body, all the time.
Gerber said the parent’s job is to learn to be a good observer of the cues of even a non-verbal child, and then respond honestly and respectfully. Parents were invited to come to her “class” to relax, and practice close observation and non-intervention (Or, “don’t do something … just sit there!”) The focus was on understanding the relationship needs and developmental competencies of infants. Thus, Gerber encouraged awareness (especially of parent’s unspoken needs – “Is this about you, or about the baby?”); consistent, predictable care routines; and Respect as a guide in all communication.
Gerber taught that knowledge of how to care for an individual infant comes, first and foremost, out of the parent’s direct observations and interactions, rather than an ‘expert’ opinion. [ She’d say “The Expert is in Your Arms.”]
Both women wrote and spoke a lot – and applied their basic insights to many details (pacifiers, food, boundaries, high chairs, tummy time torture, relatives, diaper changes, etc)
“By respectfully reflecting and reinforcing the simple truths of your child’s experience, you allow for the self-learning and natural development that result in a confident and competent child.”
“Be careful what you teach. It might interfere with what they are learning.” (This statement of hers is similar to the great educational theorist Jean Piaget’s “When you teach a child something, you take away forever his chance of discovering it for himself.”)
Gerber guided parents with this motto, which was to be taken seriously:
Do Less, Observe More, and Enjoy Most
…And then there is Janet Lansbury
Janet Lansbury studied with Magda, and is now a gazillion-followers best-selling books guru. She offers a lot – once you get past her “malibu mom” vibe. To some extent, Pikler and Gerber provide the “Why” and the “What” – Janet goes further into “How does that actually sound/look.”
One of her best insights is the need for parents providing “leadership” to their kids. While she never exactly says “Butch Up” she reminds anxious moms (her main target) that doing what we have to do isn’t always easy – but is what’s best for our child.
Teachers II: Our List of Ancient Wise Men
What’s hard about being a man isn’t new. For a few thousand years there has been a practical self-management system first built to help guys thrive in the time of anxiety and uncertainty that was ancient Rome. That’s Stoicism – a method to help you get through any situation – as helpful on the playground as it was in the Roman Senate – a way to help yourself do your job, have fun, and stay sane. And it works: it’s the basis of “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” (CBT) – the one mental health treatment approach most approved by health insurance companies and recommended by researchers for issues like addiction and anxiety. [* use of CBT*]
Stoicism in 27 words:
There are things you can control, and everything else. Respect Nature – or “things as they are.” See The Spirit in all people. Practice. You are The Captain.
Superstars of Stoicism:
The written word that’s come down is mostly from three guys: Socrates (who your parents knew from “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”); Epictetus, ex-slave and famous local teacher; and Marcus Aurelius, known as “the last of the Good Emperors.”
Socrates and Epictetus were funny and bitchy improvising teachers who wrote nothing down, although their students did. The guy who did write stuff down was not a teacher, but the most powerful man in the world: Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Emperor of Rome through the plagues, invasions and insurrections of “The Shitty One Sixties” thru his death in 180. As a practicing stoic, he self-managed with a journal – parts of which survived. Called “The Meditations” it’s a readable “how to” classic.
A complete text on Stoic fathering is available here – but the main point is “There are things you can control, and things you can’t.”