That we should respect each other as adults is something that most people agree on, but so often this is overlooked when it comes to children - yet even the smallest baby is worthy of respect.
Respect is a crucial part of communicating love. When we respect a baby, we let them know that we are interested in them. We let them know that they are valued and appreciated for who they are. We let them know that they matter.
A significant portion of our time spent with babies involves caregiving such as feeding and nappy changing, and during these activities we can demonstrate our respect in a number of ways:
See the baby as a competent person
The key to respectful caregiving is seeing the child as a person with whom you are in partnership with, and to involve them when caring for them. When we see a baby as a competent human being - when have trust in their capabilities – we encourage active participation and cooperation, as well as engendering intimacy and joy.
Give full attention
When we give a child our full attention and remain fully present, both physically and mentally, we let them know that they are important to us and that we enjoy the time we spend with them. It’s about putting the baby first in that moment – everything and everyone else can wait. This full attention fills the baby up emotionally, and allows them to then go off and play and explore, safe in the knowledge that they are loved.
Say what you’re going to do before you do it
Think about how it would feel to have someone come up behind you while you sat engrossed in a book or deep in conversation with a friend, and lift you high into the air or wipe your nose without any warning. You’d likely be startled! Babies tend to startle easily because so much about the world is new and unknown, so it’s particularly important that we tell them that we’re going to do something before we do it.
When we do - when we let them know that we’re going to wipe them, and that the wipe is cold, or that we’re going to shut the car door, and it’s going to make a loud noise – and then pause, we allow time for the baby to process what you have said and then prepare for the experience internally.
If you only make one change after reading this post, make it this. Babies move at a difference pace to us; they need more time to process information and respond. They are also naturally curious about the world around them, and as they become more mobile they are likely trying to explore everything around them.
If your baby is engrossed in play when you go to get them for a feed or a nappy change, wait for them to finish what they are doing and move their attention to you. If they don’t, acknowledge that they are busy and apologise for interrupting before letting them know what will happen next; “I can see you’re really enjoying playing with that ball. *pause* I’m sorry to interrupt you but we need to change your nappy. *pause* I’m going to pick you up. *pause* [move slowly to allow baby to participate in the movement of being picked up]”
Similarly, babies need time during caregiving activities for their attention to wander. They may want to stare at the tree outside halfway through a meal, or play with the metal poppers on their vest while getting dressed. Allow enough time that you can pause for these things before gently leading the baby back to the activity.
Allow the baby to participate
Telling a baby that something is about to happen also gives them time to join in. Whilst it may seem quicker and easier to just do things yourself, allowing involvement fosters cooperation that will make caregiving so much easier as your baby grows into a toddler.
No baby is too young to be involved in their caregiving; for example, when changing our son’s nappy as a newborn we would tell him that we were going to lift his bottom, pause, then gently do so. Over time he began to anticipate this sequence, and was soon lifting his bottom himself. Babies can do so much when we give them the time and opportunity!
If this way of doing things is new to you and you’re finding it hard to wait for your baby to respond, try counting to ten in your head.
The beauty of caring for babies in this way is that it allows self-confidence and cooperation to flourish. It also allows babies to be their authentic self. When we truly tune in and hear what they are telling us, allow them to make choices and notice what they can do, we tell the baby “I love and accept you for who you are.”
When we help a child to feel secure, feel appreciated, feel that ‘somebody is deeply, truly interested in me,’ by the way we just look, the way we listen, we influence the child’s whole personality, the way that child sees life.