Have you heard of Magda Gerber? Neither had I. She came to my attention through a ‘Discover Your Baby’ group I occasionally drop-in on. Her philosophy in childcare seems to sit comfortably alongside many of Steiner’s insights. She is, above all, insistent that we listen to and respect our children as full human beings already, now. She says that if we enfold them in our love they will unfold in their own time and so her teaching gently reminds us not to try and mold our children or push them to learn and grow at a fast pace that suits our ‘parent egos’ more than our child’s developing sense of wonder.
Rather, Magda Gerber (in no way related to the Gerber baby food company) urges us to sit back and observe our children’s natural development (especially aged zero to two, I believe). She says parenting and childcare are being overriden by a ‘faster, more, better’ culture that clutters our children with excess attention, toys and general interference. In contrast, “she urged parents to observe their babies and wait for their cues, never rushing them into sitting, walking, eating, or talking before they signal their readiness to do so.”
This totally resonates with my inner feeling. With eating we very much followed Nica’s cues and waited for her to signal to us that she was ready to start eating and I feel confident that was the right thing for her. With walking, likewise, I have a very relaxed attitude predicated on the fact that I have long been sold on the benefits of crawling for brain development, co-ordination and building core-strength (of the torso). However it was at one of these ‘Discover Your Baby’ classes that I was shown a blind-spot of mine.
Just like so many parents are in a hurry to see their kids walk and put them in walkers, bouncers and other upright devices (most of which are not only not beneficial but arguably even detrimental to children’s overall wellbeing) modern parents often seem in a hurry to see their kids sit upright, too. Okay, I never bought or even experimented with putting Nica in a Bumbo. I thought they were very silly and pointless – even though others seem to get super excited by them. But I did get very enthusiastic when Nica started to be able to stay seated if I placed her there, upright. And at that point, I started sitting her up and leaving her like that because it was cute, because it gave her access to play with toys in a new way, because it gave me a break from having to hover over her when she was rolling everywhere. There was a downside. She would often crash backwards onto her head. Thankfully we have nice, plush carpet and I quickly learned to put a big pillow behind her when I sat her up…
Well… the Magda Gerber inspired ‘Discover Your Baby’ instructor set me straight. I mentioned to her Nica wasn’t crawling yet (this was at about 7.5 months). She asked if Nica spent much time lying on her back (and belly) or if she spent most of her time sitting up. I said I was sitting her up. She then asked if Nica was able to get from her belly to a seated position and back down again by herself or if I had to sit her up and put her back down? I answered (rather sheepishly, by then) that I sat her up, usually between my legs, because she couldn’t keep herself up indefinitely, yet. ‘Ahh’ she said… According to this philosophy you shouldn’t ‘artificially’ sit your kid up (even if she is able to hold herself there) until she is able to sit up for herself and that the fact that she wasn’t crawling was probably related. While Nica was spending all this time sitting up, she wasn’t practicing leg movements (waving her legs from side to side, etc) that exercise her belly and back muscles getting her ready and strong for crawling. ‘Oh…’ I said.
I took Nica home and immediately started putting her on her back and belly and letting her roll and move around on that plane again. Within two or three days Nica started to belly crawl. Aha!…
It definitely feels related and not coincidental – I saw Nica really practice reaching and pre-crawling for those few days. I guess she was ready and just needed that extra stretching and work-out time.
Generally this approach is reminding me to slow down, to look, listen and feel: look and listen to Nica and her cues; feel what is instinctive and intuitive to me. Breathe.
While I am generally quite laid-back and trusting of Nica’s unfolding into the person she is with her unique talents, temperament and passions, I realise that my parenting approach can still do with re-balancing. I get into my little parenting projects, like signing, and though with everything I do with Nica my aim is to be child-led (where possible), a reminder to see what is there is always timely.