Caregiving and Hands

My dear RIE families,

How are you? No really: how are you? I’m thinking about you every day and I want to be a resource. My plan is to write to you once or twice a week with some thoughts on RIE…some thoughts on connecting with your children and yourself, slowing down and being present…maybe a video or an article to get you thinking about something other than the virus that shall not be named.

But I want to encourage you to be in touch with me: send me pictures or videos, any anecdotes that have lightened your days…and please do send me questions and frustrations…I’m here for you! Remember that the R is RIE is for Resources. Let me be a resource or point you to one.

I’m going to start with my thoughts on one of the most elemental and important pieces of the Educaring Approach, and something you do every day with your child…and maybe you are doing these things more often in these days you are at home with them: caregiving.

One of the most profound ways the Educaring Approach can change your dynamics with your children is through caregiving. In fact, it is actually the secret backbone of this work. You’ve likely heard me say this before…attachment is strengthened when you see a need in someone and you meet that need (or simply respond contingently to that need)…and caregiving is quite simply, meeting the physical needs of someone else! Feeding a hungry person, dressing them in comfortable clothes, giving them a warm bath, and even changing a diaper…yes, changing a diaper…removing a wet and uncomfortable diaper and replacing it with a dry and well-fitting one…is meeting a physical need.

And at this stage of life, your children need a lot of caregiving. That’s a lot of opportunity for attachment building…as Magda says in Your Self-Confident Baby, “The natural time to be wholeheartedly with your child is the time you spend together anyway – while you care for your baby. Think of these ‘taking-care-of’ routines as very special, refueling time for both of you – time for intimate togetherness. You have to do caregiving routines while you are close…you cannot do them from a distance…so why not make it pleasurable?” (Gerber, 2002, p. 5).

And it makes sense: not only are you meeting a need, but if you approach it as something you can do together with, instead of to, your child, you are inviting your child into a little bit of a dance…a back and forth…give and take…reciprocity. You can do this by slowing down, telling your child every little thing you are doing, and asking for help, real help, while you do it. This is actually one of the basic principles of RIE: to make your child an active participant in their care. You want to make your child active in this exchange, solicit their cooperation, make eye contact…

This is the point where I often stop and ask people to think about their dentist. People generally either love their dentist…or hate him or her. And invariably, when I dig a little deeper and ask why they love their dentists, they say things like:

  • He asks about my life
  • She tells me what she’s going to do and why
  • He goes slowly and warns me before he moves the chair
  • She makes sure I’m comfortable
  • She is affordable and works with my insurance

Okay, so most of those are things your child would want from you to…to be interested in them, to tell them what’s going to happen, to warn them before you do something (which also prepares them to be a part of it). The bit about the insurance is true (!)…I get that answer a lot, and it always makes me laugh. I hope it makes you laugh, too. But seriously…when you are being cared for, particularly when you are in a vulnerable and dependent state, you want someone who’s going to work with you, not ON you. And your children are most definitely vulnerable and dependent.

When you care for someone in that way, they can’t help but be seen, felt, heard… respected….they can’t help but develop a deep reservoir of positivity. As articulated so well in Beginning Well, “by building trust in these small and daily moments, you will help him to feel safe and secure with you in more critical situations” (p. 43).

There’s so much more I could say here, but I want to keep these short…for now, the last thing I’ll leave you with, and the thing that I hope you carry with you in your next caregiving exchange with your child is this: as Magda says, you have to do your caregiving routines up close…you have to lay hands on your child. And her mentor, Dr. Emmi Pikler had some profound thoughts about hands:

Our hands form the first relationship of a baby with the world…Our hands lift up the baby, lay him down, wash and dress, and perhaps feed him, too. What a difference: how different is the picture of the world that is revealed to a baby when calm, patient, caring but also secure and decisive hands take care of him – and how different the world looks when these gestures are impatient and rough or hurried, agitated and nervous. In the beginning hands are everything for an infant. The hands are the person, the world.

With care,