Sometimes inspiration comes from within, and sometimes it comes from the world around me…this time, my inspiration comes from a direct question. A question about questions. A parent asked me to reflect on “the artfulness of asking questions” and how to help guide children to find answers from within.
Ah, I found that to be such a profound question because, truthfully, it is my aim to help parents answer questions from within. That’s a kind of strange thing for someone who teaches a particular and specific parenting style to say, particularly when parents come to my classes specifically to learn about the Educaring Approach from me. In fact, though, a primary element of this Approach is authenticity…to thine self, be true. Yes, I do share principles of the Educaring Approach and lessons I’ve learned along the way as an infant and toddler teacher, as a student of RIE, as a teacher of RIE, as an Aunt, as a friend, and even as a wife and daughter…but for every lesson I offer, for every anecdote I share, I hope I’m asking you to reflect on what I’ve said to see how it fits into your life, your values, your ideas of parenting and humanity. It’s so important that your parenting comes from your heart and mind.
It’s true that I may ask you to do some things that will feel uncomfortable at first, and may feel inauthentic…it is kind of weird to sit around for 90 minutes and just watch children play, odder still not to referee between two children who are trading a toy back and forth (especially if there are loud feelings involved), perhaps stranger still to let your child feel stuck on top of a platform or a climbing structure and not rescue them immediately, and perhaps strangest of all: to not swoop in and shush and distract a crying child…I could go on. Yes, there are times that I ask you to do something out of your comfort zone, but then…we talk about it. I ask how you were feeling, what you were thinking; I share with you what I was feeling and thinking. Often, I feel the way you do: anxiety or uncertainty; concern and empathy for your child. But I offer a new way of framing your child’s experiences, hopefully in a way that helps you see the situation in a more positive and growth-minded way. We talk about how to be supportive and present, without taking over…and what that does for your child. We talk less about what that does for you.
My hope is that you will begin to internalize a practice of slowing down, observing, and looking for your child’s competencies. Looking to see what they can do on their own, just given a little bit of time and support. To look within yourself and ask yourself…how am I feeling about this? What is my child learning right now? What do I want to teach them? To parent in a pro-active, rather than a re-active way. I tell people that the secret to parenting is knowing where your boundaries and values are, and I strongly believe that RIE gives you the opportunity and the skills to constantly go back to yourself to assess those as you and your children grow together.
So, getting back to this parent’s question…how to guide children to find answers within themselves: I advise you to practice slowing down, giving your children space to look for that answer within themselves. Perhaps repeat the question back to them. Ask them what they think. Wonder with them, how they might find the answer, or what would happen if they didn’t find the answer right away.
And model for them your practice of deciding for yourself how you think and feel about things: if you journal, show them that; if you talk it out, do that in front of them; if you meditate or go for walks, demonstrate that for them. My mother used to process by taking long walks or going for a swim in the mornings before work. That doesn’t work for me, but she helped me find my path nonetheless, by observing who I am and how I tick. To this day, when I come to her with worries, she reminds me: “write it down. Make a list. You will figure it out.”
It is a stated goal of the Educaring Approach to raise authentic infants. The funny thing about authenticity though, is that if you want to foster it in someone else, you have to practice it for yourself.
I want to emphasize that word “foster,” here. In this case, I very much mean to “take care of, to nurture” more than I mean to “promote the development of” because I very much believe, as Magda Gerber did, that it is our job to help infants and toddlers “hold on to that authenticity and be true to themselves. Our children begin life by looking directly and openly into our eyes without looking away. …We can learn from them” (Your Self Confident Baby, p. 108).