The holidays seem to bring with them excesses of all kinds: too much eating, drinking, and rushing around. It's no wonder that people collapse by New Year's Day. This year, I have again resolved to not get caught up in the whirlwind of the holidays. Instead I want to do my best to contemplate and appreciate the gifts that I have, of family, friends, and work that I love. Will I be successful, or will I be tempted to do that one thing just too many that will put me over the edge?
It may seem like quite a leap but I began thinking about all this as I sat in my car, waiting to pick up my teenage son and his friends. I watched a father and the person I assumed to be his young son hurriedly traverse the parking lot. The child appeared to be under two years of age and not yet a steady walker. The boy held his father's hand with his arm raised above his head, looking as if his arm could be dislocated from its shoulder socket. The two hurtled full speed ahead with the child trying desperately and unsuccessfully to keep up the pace. Twice the boy stumbled and twice the father, without a glance at his son, yanked the child's arm higher in the air to propel him up and away from the ground to keep him from falling.
I imagined being this young boy, as I continued to watch them press ahead without slowing down. I felt the discomfort in my own shoulder and the sensation of teetering forward, worrying that I might fall on my face. I imagined that I would feel, if not downright anxious, certainly not calm. I would see myself as unimportant and "less-than" because, after all, who would drag someone they care about across a parking lot? I thought about the missed opportunity between this father and son, the simple pleasure of holding hands and being together, just the two of them, walking to who knows where. I wondered what was so important that it could not have waited just a few minutes longer so the two could have walked at a slower pace. Then I thought, "Hey, wait a minute! This happens all the time! Who hasn't hurried like this with a young child?" I thought about the times when I had been so caught up with whatever was on my mind that I rushed with my infant son, making me less present and emotionally available to him. In response, he became upset, causing me to catch myself and return from my thoughts to him. It's not always easy to be fully present and attuned to a baby or young child who can't keep up physically or verbally to let you know, "Hey wait a minute! Slow down!" So, what can we do?
For parents who are new to RIE and to Magda Gerber's Educaring Approach, I recommend they start by practicing these four steps which can help provide a sense of security and well-being for the baby, and greater calm and peacefulness for the whole family:
1. Slow down. See how slowly you can move, as you pick up and carry your baby, diaper and dress him, or lay him down in his crib for a nap. When you move slowly, your baby can follow what's happening, and be an integral part of the experience rather than a passenger just along for a too-hurried ride. Move slowly with your toddler too, as you bathe him, set his lunch on the table for him, or take a walk in the neighborhood together. Sometimes, toddlers are unjustly accused of being uncooperative when it's simply that life is moving so quickly that they can't keep up, causing them to lose their emotional equilibrium.
2.Tell your baby what you're going to do before you do it. "I'm going in the kitchen and will be right back." "I'd like to pick you up now so we can change your diaper." "Let's unsnap your pajamas." When you tell your baby what you're going to do before you do it, he can prepare himself for what's going to happen next. He can relax, knowing there will be no surprises. You won't abruptly disappear from the room. He won't be startled by being picked up suddenly. He won't be surprised by the rush of cool air as his pajamas are unsnapped.
3. Tarry, or wait, for a few moments to let your baby take in what you have said. Tarry time was coined by RIE Associate Diana Suskind to describe the time between when you tell your baby what's going to happen and when you walk out of the room to the kitchen, pick up your baby, or unsnap his pajamas. Since babies take longer to process verbal communication than adults do, when we proceed full steam ahead, it feels abrupt to them. Look and wait for a cue that he's ready.
4. Give full attention. No one can give full attention to a baby or anyone else, 24 hours a day. But it is possible to turn off the phone and the computer or other distractions so that you can give full attention to your baby during caregiving times of feeding, diapering, dressing, and bathing. By giving full attention during these intimate activities, your baby can be emotionally refueled and the message being conveyed is, "You're important to me. I care about you."
At this time of year, with all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it is more important than ever to remember that the simple act of slowing down and giving our full attention is a gift that we can give to our children, and to ourselves.
Deborah Carlisle Solomon is the author of Baby Knows Best: Raising a Confident and Resourceful Child, the RIE® Way, and the Executive Director of Resources for Infant Educarers® (RIE®). www.rie.org • www.deborahcarlislesolomon.com