Empowering infants as people

by Miriam Katz on December 16, 2010

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So many of our parenting practices, I realize, have to do with treating our baby (6.5 months this week) like a full-fledged person, with the same rights and preferences as her parents. While it may seem weird to the masses, drawing harsh lines between adults and babies doesn’t give our babies enough credit.

For example, we practice Elimination Communication (EC). The philosophy underpinning this practice is that infants are aware – from birth – of their need to eliminate – and prefer to do so in a way that keeps them dry and comfortable, as do we.  This understanding ultimately gave way to the stay-dry disposable diaper, but a much simpler solution is available. We simply monitor our child carefully for signs of needing to eliminate, as we would for signs of hunger. Thus, dd gets to go to the potty, just like her parents do.

Another example – sleeping in a real bed alongside family members. One might argue that asking a baby to spend the night alone is asking them to be mature beyond their years. Personally, I don’t enjoy spending the night alone, and I’m in my 30s. Why should my newborn have to do it?

Another way we resist infantiaizing our infant is baby-led weaning. While many of her peers are being fed bland “enriched” rice cereal and mashed foods, our baby is making choices between the foods her parents are eating, within reason. We acknowledge dd’s limited capacity to chew by providing foods that are soft enough for her to manage – roasted vegetables, hummus and fruits. For me to tell her she needs to consume – much less finish – a food that I wouldn’t touch seems absurd.

Finally, there’s discipline. Who decided that little people have less right to dignity than their elders? This idea is so dominant that I find myself retraining myself and dd’s caretakers – not to tell her to stop crying (it’s our job to soothe and assist, not repress), not to tell her what to say, even in the context of learning essentials like basic vocab or please and thank you, etc.

Sometimes it feels like an uphill battle, but the benefits are enormous. In respecting my child’s dignity and humanness, I reaffirm my own. I find I have greater access to compassion as a result of these practices. And I have my daughter to thank for that.

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Miriam Katz (18 Posts)

A Boston-based WAHM who sees parenting as the most challenging career path she's ever chosen. In her spare time, Miriam is co-author of The Other Baby Book and works as a career and life coach to GenX women and moms.


{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Natalia – Baby Guroo December 16, 2010 at 8:38 am

Thank you for the article! I guess it’s treating the baby as a person that even made me decide against swaddling one day: it just didn’t look or feel right.

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Christina December 16, 2010 at 2:19 pm

I don’t understand not wanting to instruct a child to say please and thank yous. While I agree that children deserve complete respect as a person, I do believe that an equally important part of parenting is teaching and guiding children to treat others with full respect. It takes more than just modeling respect- they need some direction. Children are naturally (appropriately) completely self-centered when they are young- and it requires gentle and kind but strong parenting to teach them to respect others in the way that we respect them.

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Miriam Katz December 17, 2010 at 10:05 am

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Christina. I found this article particularly helpful in exploring the please/thank you question: http://www.naturalchild.org/jan_hunt/magicwords.html

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Natalia – Baby Guroo December 18, 2010 at 2:03 am

While I understand why some people don’t instruct their children to say please and thank you, the article you link to assumes that if you do teach the children to do so, they will act out of fear for punishment. It seems a little extreme to me. I mean, punishment for not saying thank you? I think what is much more common is a reminder:or a little talk now and then, combined with a good example.

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Miriam Katz December 18, 2010 at 8:46 am

As with any parenting issue, there are extremes on either end, and shades of gray in the middle. I agree that fear of punishment is an extreme situation, but I have witnessed parents using their power to enforce their kids’ use of manners, which seems ironic given that the parents weren’t being respecting their kids dignity by forcing a thank you.

For me, I believe that by consistently modelling the use of manners, I am gently teaching and reminding my children to do so, and by allowing them to begin on their own terms, it is more likely that they will thank others from a place of true gratitude. That being said, my child is not yet speaking so I will check back in the future and let you know whether my thoughts have changed.

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carolb December 16, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Brilliant post, well said to all of that!
Remembering that we were also children once – rather than referring to them as if they are another species!
And the rewards for this respectful parenting – great kids and great family relationships

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Janine December 21, 2010 at 8:13 pm

I LOVE THIS. These are so many of my thoughts, yet when I express them to most moms my age they totally shoot them down. (I was flamed on a message board when I said I wouldn’t *make* my son say things he didn’t mean for the sake of politeness.)

I also love the bit about not making a child sleep alone. So many of the moms who advocate their baby sleeping through the night in another room would be upset if you asked them to sleep without their partners.

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Jen, mom of DS January 4, 2011 at 5:44 pm

so deeply … meaningful to me. Why should a child be *taught* to say please/thank you when they will learn how important gratitude is when thye go into the world on their own as a real lesson, not some ‘habit’ rammed down them. words said that are meant are worth so much more than than just ‘being polite.

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st July 3, 2011 at 4:27 am

hello, re. feeding 6.5 month old softer adult food:
one baby-led weaning site says to allow 4 days for new tastes, to check if baby has adverse reactions.

Do/did you do that? My baby is just turned 6 mo.

Thanks, st

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Miriam Katz July 10, 2011 at 5:26 pm

That sounds like a mainstream solids practice and not a BLW practice. If you have allergies in the family, I’d hold off on those foods and others known to be highly allergenic (egg whites, strawberries, shellfish etc) until later (around a year or at your pedi’s recommendation). I’d recommend reading Baby-led Weaning or the BLW Cookbook to get started, and joining a forum with other BLW moms where you can ask questions – there’s at least one relevant yahoo group.
Good luck and enjoy!!

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