(I encourage you to read the really thought-provoking comments on this post!- Carrie)
My basic premise this week is that not only is childhood under assault, but childhood development is not understood in North America, and unfortunately not even well understood by many parents or even the professionals who work with children.
Movement is a foundation for all learning.The first key aspect to understanding childhood development is to know and understand that the child is not an object to be acted upon, but that the child is a unique person whom we approach with love and understanding.
Too many times in our society we treat the infant as an object to be fed at “x” number of hours, an object that should be sleeping through the night, an object for us to do something to and put down. If the child is a person as I have posited above, then we are not here to parent to “do something” to that child. The infant, for example, is not an object to just feed or diaper. At the heart of infant care (and at the heart of being with children of any age) is connection and cue-based interactions. The child is shaped by the impressions it takes in of its environment. The brain is developing throughout the lifetime.
A loving relationship with a primary caregiver is a force in helping the child’s development unfold. Connection is a primary motivating force for an infant in movement. We have all seen the studies regarding infants who are in an orphanage and are never touched; they don’t thrive.
If connection is a necessity and it is foundational to movement, then cue-based interaction gives validity to the infant as a person. If I am in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and an infant is unstable physiologically, that baby is telling me with all it has that now is not the time to interact or play or even change a diaper (unless the diaper that is causing the physiologic instability). As part of developmentally-based care, we honor that. So at the heart of any interaction with children, or own or someone else’s child, we need to connect and observe. We must be attentive and perceptive.
This is something I feel many people who work with children are poor at doing. There are many expectations placed on children these days, especially in a school setting for preschool, kindergarten and older children. I think many times professionals are not only not looking at the child in front of them, but are also not questioning the (unrealistic) expectations that has been demanded from a governmental body or by our own mis-perception as a society. We are encouraged by society to see our children as small adults, and to move them as quickly through childhood as possible.
But back to the infant — how hard that baby works to develop! From having such poor vision and really relying on the sense of smell and touch, the proprioceptive sense, the sense of balance becomes more and more developed as the infant works up and down, front to back, left to right through a specific developmental sequence. Every movement is in one of these planes and is a sensory-motor experience for the child. In other words, the integration of sensory input is essential to normal motor movement.
There is always an individual footprint in movement. Try laying down on your back and seeing how many different ways you can initiate rolling to your side. So there is individuality to movement and movement transitions, but there is also a more universal developmental sequence observed. And no, not every baby or child goes through this specific sequence, but many do, and the children who come to us with special and wonderful gifts often can still benefit from the parts of this developmental sequence they can attain.
In order for children to develop as fully as possible, we must not deprive them of this developmental sequence by excessively using baby carriers, baby Johnny jump-ups, baby seats and the like. We can think of children who have severe movement impairments where the receptors for touch decrease rapidly and the central nervous system then does not receive the same input as children who are moving; we should not be creating this in our small children of our own accord.
Infants need to be held and touched and spoken and sung to. They need their cries responded to promptly. What we hear about “stimulating the infant” for growth and development this is not done through the use of plastic toys or a screen or seats or carriers, but using soft voices, touch and love during normal caregiving activities. The baby must have time on you, the mother, the baby’s natural habitat, in a horizontal position and in later months, to work in safety on the floor. Infants also need time to work at lifting their head, work at moving their arms and legs when being on their back, work on finding their feet, work on rolling. You can read an interesting article about sixty years of study done by the Pikler Institute in Budapest, Hungary, utilizing an approach that leaves infants in the horizontal position until the infant him or herself achieves something different: http://www.consciousparentingguide.com/Jane_Swain_-_Pikler%E2%80%99s_Trust_in_the_Wise_Infant.html.
More development up next! The quiet, still head and why you should know about it, and more!