I read a fascinating article in Slate the other day about cultural differences in how we raise babies.
Researchers asked parents around the world what was most beneficial for baby’s development, and Americans almost universally answered “intellectual stimulation”.
I bought into this idea as a new parent, and my first child had a large collection of brain-developing toys that I showed him every day. My second one had fewer, but my third has none.
Since I was introduced to RIE, I learned children are self-motivated. They develop at their own pace, and can be trusted. All parents need to provide is a safe environment with simple opportunities, and then step back and observe. Extra stimulation is unnecessary.
Yet we still have a strong desire to “do” stuff (at least I do!).
So as a RIE parent who wants to step back, trust my child, and give them space to develop at the perfect time for them, what can I “do”?
My favorite quote from Magda Gerber is, “Do less, observe more, enjoy most”. Instead of spending time dangling toys in front of baby or trying to get their attention on a particular object, provide a few simple toys (bowls, cups, balls), and watch them explore. Even a baby who is not mobile will look intently at different things. It opens up a magical world when you watch your baby closely to see what they’re interested in.
When my baby is struggling to do something, she will look at me. So I talk to her. “I see you’re trying to touch that ball, but it’s just out of reach. You can see it just past your fingers.” And as she wiggles to get it, I talk about what she’s doing. When she gets it, I say, “you got the ball in your hand”. I don’t talk all the time, because sometimes I see her concentrating and I don’t want to interfere. But narration puts words to actions and also lets her know I see what she’s doing and that it’s important to me.
I recently moved back to San Diego after three years living in a small rural town, and I’m overwhelmed by the interesting activities we can do. There are fairs and museums and friends and hikes and shopping and parks and everything is designed to capture your child’s attention and enrich their developing mind. It’s hard to say no, but I think saying no is crucial to development. Make time to do nothing. Make time to be quiet. Make time to talk to each other without being entertained and bombarded with information, no matter how interesting and educational it might be. In our fast-paced world, doing nothing is an activity that needs to be sought out and made a priority, just like any other activity you schedule on the calendar.
Activities with your baby don’t need to be things to be fancy, colorful, or loud. Quiet moments allow baby to seek out what’s interesting to them, and allow you to see baby for who they are.
These suggestions may not seem like “activities” to some people, but try them for your baby — you might be surprised at what you see.