[BOOK REVIEW] Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting
Updated: Aug 8, 2020
Book Author: Janet Lansbury Page Count: 150
Summary: Elevating Child Care is a book made from a compilation of blog articles by educator Janet Lansbury, who practices Respectful Infant Education (RIE), created by Magda Gerber. I first heard of RIE out to lunch with another attendee of the Positive Discipline Parent Educator training. RIE and Positive Discipline pair very well because they’re both founded in empathy and connection. I recommend RIE for anyone caring for infants. Respectful parenting means that children are valued as individuals, which is modeled through the use of consent language, consistent boundaries, and notice of upcoming changes to routine, behavior expectation, or setting.
RIE principles I’ve adopted into my childcare practice:
I tell infants what I’m going to do before I do it, especially when it involves touching their body. For example, “I’m going to pick you up to put you in your bed.” A simple, “Up you go!” and offering arms works great in a hurry.
I use my normal speaking voice and vocabulary. I recall from a college linguistics class that there are benefits to baby talk, such as demonstrating the inflection of a sentence like, “Look at the pretty birdy!” If your “normal” voice comes out as a baby voice sometimes, that’s perfectly okay. Just know your infant is learning from and connecting with you when you speak to them without that special inflection or tone too. I’ll admit I haven’t totally broken the habit of speaking in a cutesy voice to young children (partly because I don’t think it’s harmful) but I notice when I make an effort to stay in my normal speaking voice, it anchors me in a “speak the way you’d like to be spoken to” kind of way. It also encourages me to model modulations that I might do with other adults, such as softening my tone when making a correction or request. As for not simplifying the content of speech, a moment of validation came for me when an infant in my care sat in the hallway one day. I needed to open the door wider so I asked, “Can you move your leg please?” And she did. It’s easy to assume because they can’t speak, they don’t understand, but when given the opportunity to show what they know, they’ll show you a lot.
I try not to interrupt when they’re engaged with something. This one’s really cool because it challenges the caregiver to notice what the infant in their care is interested in and respect it in the same way we’d be careful not to interrupt a partner working from home. When interruptions are necessary, empathy might sound like, “It’s beautiful the way the light’s making a shadow on your toy bear. You’ve been looking at that for a while. I bet you noticed the light change. It’s time to put the bear back in the toy basket.” With children that are able to respond verbally, I may ask if it’s okay for me to interrupt (if I’m okay with their answer being “no” --that’s essential) or say, “Please excuse the interruption,” and get right to the point of what I need to say.
I let them explore physical movement without assistance. It’s a huge cultural shift to not put infants on their tummy to teach them to crawl or to hold their hands while they’re learning to walk. To be honest, I feel a loss there. I did those things earlier in my career and it felt rewarding to be a part of. The thing is, most babies will figure out how to move on their own and, when allowed to develop on an unassisted timeline, do so with grace, fluidity, and an observable sense of pride in accomplishment. Part of this is letting them take risks. I remember watching an early climber stand on a stool. He was looking out the window and about to take a side step into nothing. My instincts told me to wait, that there wasn’t a need to jump up to catch him, and my instincts were right. He felt that there wasn’t footing there and steadied himself. Let the babies surprise you with just how aware they are.
Some of the above practices came into my life from working with RIE-practicing parents, more than from the book itself, though it does go into detail about each of those ideas. The number one thing I took from the Elevating Child Care book specifically, though:
It’s been enormously helpful to me to read what Janet Lansbury wrote about boundaries. Her analogy goes, when you’re turning the corner on a steep cliff, the guard rail isn’t harsh or oppressive. You feel safer with it there. [Insert mind blown emoji.] Making space for others is necessary for connection. Setting boundaries is not the opposite of that. It offers a feeling of being grounded. As someone who’s felt mean setting boundaries in the past, this has really, (ironically), opened up my world.
Such a good analogy.
As one of my nanny moms likes to say: we love Janet.