Talking to babies

Relating Lovingly to Babies

The best laid plans o’ mice and men gang aft aglay.
Robert Burns (To A Mouse)

In her Exchange article, “Being with Babies” (September/October 2011), Anna Tardos from the Pikler Institute in Budapest observed that teachers can never love every baby in their care the way a mother does.  However, she notes that following a few basic rules (a few examples of which are listed below), teachers can create a healthy atmosphere of being together with “real encounters, when the infant is not only the object of everything happening to him, but a participant as well”:

Never pick up an infant unexpectedly into your arms in a way that is startling for him.  Address him, look for his gaze.  If he is asleep and you still have to pick him up, address him, gently caress his face, and wait until he stretchingly wakes up.  Once eye contact has been established, tell him that he is going to be picked up.  Yes, even with an infant only a few days or weeks old.  Then reach out for him only afterwards.
Help him also with words to prepare him for what is going to happen.  This also means that we are never silent while together, but speak to him; have a conversation.  Speak to him about what is going to be done, what kind of clothes will be taken out that are going to be put on him.   About which part of his body will be touched.  Talk to him, inform him, not only while the action is being done, but also before it is started:  “I am going to pull your arm over the sleeve of the coat.  Yes, this arm of yours.  Thank you.”  Believe it or not, the miracle will take place at the age of only a few months.  Smiling, the baby will, although uncertainly, lift his arm when the adult’s hand is reaching out for it.  And what a pleasure it is for the adult, and what a pleasure for the baby!
The baby must be listened to when the adult is caring for him. He must be responded to.  In a relationship created this way the content of the conversation will be richer and richer, and the infant will get responses to his manifestations.  The caregiver may say, for example, “I can see that you like this nice warm coat.  Yes, I see you are sleepy now.  You have just yawned.  I am going to put you in your bed real soon.   Here we are, I am going to put you down in your bed.  And now I am covering you.  Sweet dreams!”  A baby of only a few months already absorbs the words aimed at him.  And he helps the caring adult to stay with him with her attention — her thoughts, her interest — even if it is the third or the eighth child whose diapers she has changed that morning.