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Baby Begins to Search the World

A blog post entitled:  “Let’s get that baby moving! Part 2” is an example of parent education one might call “Helicopter Training.”

Watch the last 2 minutes of this seven minute video of a 9-month-old baby. What do you see?

This 9 month old crawled on his own when he was ready. In this case the precipitating event was putting an iPad on the floor at his eye level six feet away. When he saw it, he decided there was some reason to crawl and, as you can see, he did. But we all know it would have happened without my help. I was just having fun, and not trying to get him to crawl.

“Here are five easy steps to get your child to that next stage,” says the blog. “Five ways to get your child to crawl”? We can see the whole series now: “Six Steps To Your Baby’s First Step,” “Nine Secrets To Getting Her to Do Her Homework,” “11 Ways to College,” “12 Step ….” Stop. Stop underestimating children.

Whereas the neurological understanding in the blog is sound, instructing parents in the best method for getting our children to crawl is right up there with “Teaching Our Kids To Think.” Kids are humans; they think. Babies are designed by natural selection to figure things out and internally motivated to become whole—just like adults. Crawling is just one more sign that their brain is progressing nicely. Learning to crawl does not require “empowered parents.”

The website, subtitled: “Transforming children’s lives by empowering parents and professionals,” is tragically deceptive. The truth is that this kind of “empowering parents” insults children by underestimating what they can do on their own. It can lead to dependent, anxious parents, too. Parents wondering if they are doing enough? Kids don’t need it.

Parents who feel it is up to them to get their children to be successful should expect their children to depend on them for success on into adulthood. The website’s subtitle should be: “Helicopter Training for Parents.”

What we have here is the nicest example I have yet come across of the cultural neurosis that has gripped so many parents. The implication that parents should be doing something to get the children to develop is symptomatic of pressure parents are under to accelerate their children up the social pyramid.

A professional educator knows, and parents instinctively know, that their children have within them the wherewithal to make something of themselves in the world. Children need to see us going about our normal business trusting them to go about theirs. By the time they are in grade school child-rearing law number 3 applies: If the parent cares more about it than the child, it absolves the child of responsibility.

The simply best parenting is much simpler. Great parents simply provide a rich, loving environment with boundaries. This environment contains the unspoken assumption that all human beings actively pursue their own growth and development. Adults who care about kids believe in their inner spark, watch for their genius, marvel and delight in their unique character, and support them as needed. If we act like they need us in order to master the challenges along the way, they will need us long past our need for them to be independent.

Taking responsibility for your children’s growth and development does not include controlling it. In fact the art of parenting, like the art of teaching, includes the art of taking full responsibility without control. Children are unready to crawl until, low and behold, some inner voice says NOW, and suddenly it all comes together for them, and they crawl. We can count on them, and they need to know that we know we count on them from birth until it is time for them to take care of us.

Education and parenting is as much an art as a science, and as I have said many times before, there are many good ways to parent, and no one right way. At the same time there are some not-so-good ways and taking on a child’s challenge when they are quite capable of taking it on themselves is one of the not-so-good ways.

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15 Responses to “Baby Begins to Search the World”

  1. Bob Kniffin October 25, 2012 at 6:39 am #

    Well, the giveaway is that his name is Dana, therefore full of lopsided Ackerly DNA.

  2. Gary Gruber October 25, 2012 at 6:57 am #

    What’s the rush? I ask that question all the way through the developmental stages, even my own, now at age 75. What’s all this hurry up and get there? Slow down and smell the ____________.
    You fill in the blank.

  3. Rick October 25, 2012 at 7:20 am #

    DNA ain’t got nothin’ to do with it, and you know it. Most babies learn to crawl–though I have heard some go straight to walking. As Gary says, so what?
    Anyway, I wish I had more of that lopsided Kniffin sense of humor.

  4. janetlansbury October 25, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    Rick, this is a wonderful, important post. Whenever I read “How to get your child to…”, circus training comes to mind. Who are we to decide these things? And why would we want that kind of relationship with our children? Getting people to do things is my *least* favorite thing to do…and I agree about the helicoptering. Once we start on the path of subtle, well-meaning manipulation, we get stuck there.

    Without trust in our children, beginning when they are infants, they don’t have a prayer of being the self-confident students and secure adults we hope they’ll be.

    I LOVE this video, but not because of the crawling — because of the playing that precedes it. This is a perfect of example of the kind of play that is commonly unappreciated. To the untrained eye, Dana’s just messing around…let’s get him to DO something! But if you observe closely, he’s doing very important, complicated things. He’s focused and engaged for several minutes, building attention span. His “work” is so important to him that he is not distracted by Grandpa or Dad being there. He’s figuring out how the toy works, experimenting with the way it moves, using it creatively several different ways. He’s practicing motor skills, balance and cross-lateral movement, switching the toy from one hand to the other…and cross lateral movement is the element of crawling that is so crucial to healthy brain development. He is preparing his body for crawling! These are the “geniuses” that matter a million times more than the milestones. And they’re all natural! It’s time to start trusting nature and babies.

  5. Rick October 25, 2012 at 11:41 am #

    thank you, Janet. Especially for calling out some of the details of brain development that the video shows. I love to watch all of the different moves he makes on the wooden toy. and right, left, right, left thing is one of the most obvious and important aspect of brain development.
    Well said.

  6. janetlansbury October 25, 2012 at 1:46 pm #

    Thanks, Rick. To put it simply, the key to happy parents (and kids) is to love what they’re doing right now.

  7. Marty Dutcher October 25, 2012 at 6:15 pm #

    Rick, you’ve posted something really important, and, Janet, I loved your observations on the video. We have all been taught to push (frequently unwittingly under the guise of “encouragement”) development, and in my experience it has the opposite effect. While there are visible “milestones” in growth and development, they are not age-determined but use-determined. I see so many parents pulling children up on their feet to encourage them to walk, and of course a young child wants to please mommy and daddy, and so s/he will skip what seems less important. But then the crawling and creeping phases get short-changed, and that does affect balance and coordination later. Janet, your key to happy parents and kids is so true. Learning to let children (people!) be where they are is a parenting skill, and ought to be in early childhood training also.

  8. Pam Malboeuf October 26, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    Love your e-mails and words of wisdom. Please add my school address so I can share with my staff.

  9. Shirley October 26, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    Wonderful video Rick. The other feature of this baby’s environment is that he has his loving family all around. I saw this happen with my daughter as well when she was that age. She would be so happy to just be with the people she knew and loved…and having that as a base allowed her to grow and develop right before our eyes.

    I remember watching my three year old develop gross motor skills by taking huge risks. She loved jumping down stairs, walking on low level walls and on curbs. But she knew she could take those risks because I was present. If she wanted to hold my hand for balance it was there. But I had to be asked. I saw other parents scoop their kids up, fretting about the danger. Sure she fell sometimes, and my heart stopped many times but, the importance of her learning to trust her body and her sense of balance was more important.

    She’d much older now and I worry about how school (and society)pushes kids to mature so quickly. Calling teenagers, “young adults” is one example. Instead of honouring children for who they are, school is increasingly just about preparation for a job. It undervalues childhood and puts tremendous stress on kids to “perform”.

    But I digress…enjoy this wonderful boy…what a sweetheart.

  10. Rick October 26, 2012 at 6:12 pm #

    Shirley, Thank you for the story. Yes. educators need to educate, not accelerate.

  11. Marty Dutcher October 27, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

    Rick, I was moved by Shirley’s comments too. Being a home base for love and acceptance, as well as a provider of opportunity and new “stuff” to explore is all that is wanted and needed. We can then sometimes participate for our own enjoyment and development (crawl around to get something, swing on a swing, etc.), or let them explore while we attend to something else (with just enough awareness to be sure they are safe).
    I’m curious. Was there an educator educating as that baby crawled to the iPad?

  12. Rick October 28, 2012 at 7:16 am #

    Nice question, Marty. Dana’s mother was the educator when she put the wooden toy in front of him–he learned a lot from that obviously. I was the educator when I put the iPad on the floor in front of him so that it was in full view but not intrusive.
    But I think your somewhat rhetorical question points to the reality that children educate themselves. Maria Montessori is one of many examples of educators who understood that their primary role is to create the environment.
    Thanks for this bit of education.

  13. Christine Vollmer October 29, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    Wonderful interchanges, here. But I had a bit of a giggle, because the wise parents and educators in the exchange are evidently natural teachers, giving interesting and stimulating surroundings for their healthy, normal babies to learn with. Curiosity is the first things babies show and the worst thing we can do is bore them. They need a constant stream of interesting things, such as the toys, the iPad and the rest.

    But you perhaps are none of you aware what deprived surroundings so many babies have, especially if they have nannies! These parents need to know about the need for neurological stimulation. As you said above, babies teach themselves. But they need the wherewithal to do it and good parents are near to provide that, and should not be accused of being ‘helicopter parents’. For a while in the 30s and 40s breast feeding was ‘out’. Now it is ‘in’ because good researchers explained its importance. Putting babies on the floor …natural to you people…is also considered “dirty” by many, especially our hispanic neighbors. I think you do not know the world of parents that Charles is aware of, nor the children with mobility problems that Charles serves so generously and so efficatiously. Count your blessings, Rick! and admire those who are helping those in need….

  14. Marty Dutcher October 29, 2012 at 2:57 pm #

    You know about my inquiry into what works and doesn’t about teaching, parenting, educating, education, and schooling. From your great post, we have that an educator provides new opportunities (like an iPad) and a loving environment. I look forward to more of this!

  15. Rick October 29, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

    Christine, I take your point. It is a good one.
    In fact affluent kids can often suffer similar disadvantages. One grandmother told me (offline) about how her grandchild was never given the opportunity to crawl. She was kept “safe” in one of those jumpy things that hangs in a doorway.

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