10 Rules in our House

Consistency is the key to good parenting. I once found that my family doctor wrote on my child’s chart “mother has unrealistic expectations of what toddlers can do.” The way I spoke to my children differed from what his own wife, who is a large attachment parenting advocate, practiced. I think children come in hard wired to learn how we do things and what is expected of them.  They want to acculturate and become part of the family, the community, the civilization. The one driving questions is “How do I fit in?”

Children appreciate when we are honest communicators. When we are consistent and we don’t waffle, our expectations are clear. Our expectations become internalized by our children and they don’t have to be tested. Here are things children might come to “expect.”

A child should begin to know how we do things in our culture and what is allowed and what is not. I even encourage parents to write these things down throughout the varying stages your children go to so that both parents are clear; the language is consistent; and you can point to the writing and the children eventually point to it themselves. When they are babies, you might be writing for other adults but as they grow older, you will be surprised how much they like to talk about the “rules in our house.” Here are some of the rules we had at various ages and stages.

  1.  We help children “do it myself.” (For instance, when we diaper it is a mutual task. We don’t distract him with mobiles and toys. We have this wonderful nurturing time together. We cooperate. We co-determine how this will go. But he does not expect to “be dressed.”)
  2. We practice safe behavior to avoid accidents. “These cabinets are okay for you to play in (pans and Tupperware) but these are not (glassware). “Please don’t touch Daddy’s guitar.”
  3. Adults model, rather than require, polite and respectful behavior. “Would you like some broccoli? Yes please? No thank you?”
  4. We understand what behavior is expected from us. “In church we sit quietly and listen to the people talking.” “In restaurants we sit quietly and eat.”
  5. We don’t take things from people’s hands. When a person is touching an item, they are the temporary “owner” of that item.
  6. We eat at tables. (Eating should be done on the lap until a child is sitting freely on his own. Then it should be at a low table he can get to himself. He can’t carry food away. When he plays, he’s finished. We offer a very little food and he can ask for more until he determines he’s finished.)
  7. We clean up our messes.
  8. We are respectful of the items in our house. We don’t “bang” materials as they may get chipped or broken.
  9. We use inside voices and save loud voices for outside.
  10. We are respectful of other people. We don’t hit. We don’t gloat. Our rights end at the other guy’s nose. When a child is exerting his will we are firm on our limits but also present and loving.
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When We Want Nothing, We Get Everything

Babies and children need a safe space. This means a “no-free zone” where they come to predict what will be there and what they will do. Security, not novelty, is what they really need. They also need cognitively challenging (appropriate materials) and emotionally nurtured (caring relationship.) That is it.

So we don’t intervene when children are concentrating as it disrupts them and the flow doesn’t happen. Uninterrupted play can last while the child has energy and focus and doesn’t show us that he needs relationship. He will let you know if he wants to interact! If he is not doing anything, isn’t that okay? Don’t we sometimes do nothing? Don’t project boredom. He is never bored but he is sometimes finished.

Does this mean we leave our children alone? We can when they are in their “safe space.” But we can also be with them, observing. This is wants nothing time. It’s a way we can be with our babies without interrupting them. This allows their inner director to be alive, showing them what they need. They can’t be in relationship with us, listening to us, looking at us, and in touch with this inner director at the same time. They are two different modes. That’s why we separate them. Our caring time, when we are feeding, bathing, changing is our interactive time and then baby gets “me” time.

Thomas Mann said “Solitude is an important expression of the original in all of us.”

For most of our history, babies had “alone time.” During the 1950s and 1960s children had playpens and they were left there for hours! They played; they fell asleep; they awoke and played some more. Now it sounds like child abuse or at best benign neglect to leave a child in a play-jail. We prefer to leave them confined in containers while we tote them from room to room with us while we do the things parents need to do (clean, cook, shower).

When left on their own, babies change position every minute. The bring in information through their skin and lying down lets the most skin interact with a surface. They develop elasticity and balance. They self regulate as they move from one activity to another. They need this time.

And parents need time too. I’m always surprised when I hear parents say they haven’t been to the bathroom alone in years. You may go to the bathroom alone because you have created a safe space (a playpen is fine!) where your child feels secure and you know he will not hurt himself if you need to leave for some amount of time.

He loves nursing.” “He loves TV.” “He loves when I play with him.” Read up on conditioning. What babies get, they come to expect, and eventually they need.

Here is a quote from the RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) board of directors from 2010.

“The infant needs an intimate, stable relationship with at least one primary person. This relationship can best be developed during “care-time” — diapering, dressing, feeding and bathing. These activities offer excellent opportunities for teaching cooperation, language, body image and mutuality in task-oriented experiences. The infant is an active participant rather than a passive recipient  during care-time. The infant needs a safe and carefully designed environment in which to move, explore and manipulate. He thus achieves the stages of gross motor and sensory-motor development in his own time. Spontaneous, self-induced activities, which the infant pursues freely and autonomously, have an essential value for his/her physical and mental development. The pleasure in the process of exploration and mastery is self-reinforcing. The infant becomes intrinsically motivated to learn.  Meanwhile, the Educarer must learn to observe, understand and respect the individuality of the infant and respond with sensitivity and empathy to the infant’s cues.”

Be sure your baby has his me time, when he is free from your wanting to entertain, to be loved, to stimulate, to teach. He needs his wants nothing time for the best of himself to develop!

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The Ultimate Guide to Attachment

Babies need safe, reliable attachment. Babies and their carers co-determine their attachment in each moment they are together throughout the day. Babies communicate to us. Sometimes we think we know what babies need but how do we know? By observing! By sitting back and observing, we can get to know our child’s unique language. One baby might rub his ear when tired; another might give a distinct low moan; a hungry baby may smack his lips; his brother may crawl over to his feeding chair. We have to observe our baby to learn the language they speak. It has to be an immersion program!

The key to authentic attachment is respect. In America we tend to emphasize our children’s success but not their happiness. If we can see what they do, appreciate what they do, and not have expectations, we can do a great service for them. Do you know when this parenting attitude starts? With newborns. Everything we do with our children gives us and them a point of reference.

Our caring time (feeding, diapering, bathing) is as important as any other interaction and can be a a time for furthering our relationship. It may even be more important than any other activity because it is so intimate. They are developing a body image each time we touch them. They are learning about their bodies; their selves. Every time we touch them we’re giving a message. An infant is modified through every interaction we have with him. Are we saying “You are someone who is done TO not done WITH.” Is that what we want to say?

We also want to tap into our child’s inner initiative. We help them learn about this by talking to them as we are doing “to” them in diapering and changing,e tc. Then they begin to work with us more and more cooperatively by lifting their head while bathing, putting out their arm while changing. Eventually they will want to stand to change diapers and this should be allowed. We follow their instincts in their drive to independence. They are seeing themselves in a new way in relationship to us. Instead of lying down on a changer they want to stand and help us change. This builds confidence and they feel they are a partner with us, not an object to be dressed, bathed, diapered. They feel human. A strong inner initiator is about all they will ever need for success AND happiness.

How is this respectful relationship accomplished? By WAITING. Even when you pick him up, first communicate. “I’m going to pick you up now.” Wait for his signal that he is ready. Let him know that you have a cooperative, co-determining relationship with him. Most of us just grab a baby (even from behind) with no warning and take him where we want to go. The phone rings, we answer it. Someone else cries, we run with the undressed baby under one arm. Can’t we set things up so that this caring time is respectful and not let anything interrupt this important time together?

When we do this babies learn that they matter; that their perspective has value. If we treat babies as objects who need our custodial care, we teach them their senses don’t matter, their voice doesn’t matter, they don’t matter. They learn “I am an object.” If we place a breast or pacifier in their mouths every time they cry we are saying that their communication isn’t important to us.

This is how our babies attach to us – by being respected. They come to know we offer safe, predictable routines and interaction. They know we will give them freedom and time to process and follow their own directives. And they come to love us for it! We’re not just a warm body, we’re a  respectful, loving parent!


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Crying is Language & Babies Deserve Freedom of Expression Too

When a child cries and we try to distract him or, even worse, “plug” him with a pacifier, bottle or breast, we are telling him “Don’t feel uncomfortable. Your real feelings will not be acknowledged but will be suppressed or you will be talked out of them.” Who are we to tell children how to feel? It is uncomfortable to hear children cry. But why are we uncomfortable? Did we get the message that only the good news is acceptable to communicate? We need to work through these feelings.

Babies are always trying and failing and they are fine with that. Sometimes they are unhappy but they express it and move on. We can learn from them. We can’t give our babies a script.

Children co-determine their lives with each interaction. When they tell us they’re hungry by crying they are co-determining. They hear us preparing to feed them and the cry becomes an anticipating cry. The final cry, as the food approaches, is the relieved cry. The same thing happens in other instances. If we can observe them and learn their crying language we will be better co-determiners.

In the Dunstan Baby Language, the founder discovered that due to her gift of perfect pitch plus her lifelong music training she was able to discern her newborn’s cries. If we listen to our babies, we can learn what they are trying to tell us and better help them meet their needs.

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10 Places for Parents to Shop

  1. American Lie-Down Car Seat
  2. European Car Seat for Laying Baby Flat
  3. English Style Pram Buggy
  4. Wool Diaper Covers
  5. Michael Olaf – Montessori materials & Philosophy
  6. Giant Construction Kits (for Open Cubes)
  7. Plan Toys
  8. Viking Toys
  9. International Playthings
  10. Rhino Toys
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What’s Good for Me is Good for You, No?

In the old days, before children, I used to love taking classes at the Newberry Library in Chicago (okay let’s face it, there aren’t many places I don’t like taking classes at). There is one class there I will never forget. The teacher was a Philosophy of Education teacher at Depaul University nd he was delightful! We are still in touch!  The 6 week class explored early childhood educators and I was fascinated!

In the end, I came up with my own theory on childhood educators! They all seemed to base their ideas on what is good for children on what was good for themselves as children. Some said nature, some said play, some said spirituality. Maria Montessori said work!

My teachers name was Gerald Gutek and his books was Histocial and Philosohical Foundations of Education: A Biographical Introducation (Pearson Publishers 2005). We explored the trans-Atlantic connections in educations through the lives, philosophies and contributions of four significant educational theorists: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Heinrich Pestalozzi, Friedrich Froebel and Maria Montessori.

We looked at their ideas on education and how they were brought to the US in the 19th and 20th centuries. The analysis of Rousseau’s ideas establishes the theme of natural education here; Pestalozzi’s ideas on simultaneous instruction and object lessons can still be traced in American public education; Froebel’s ideas on kindergarten education started the movement here and Montessori’s ideas on a structured learning environment are quite interesting as are Steiner’s (Waldorf) views on nature and the soul of man.

I’m always fascinated by the history and roots of things. To know how we came to the educational system we have is fascinating to me. But even more so is how these influential people came to their ideas about what children need!

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How to Turn Passive Parenting into Respectful Discipline

A great article from blogger Janet Lansbury which can be found here:


There are two extreme approaches to discipline that do not serve a toddler’s needs. One is overly strict, punitive and non-empathetic. It involves maintaining control of the household through punitive discipline and other manipulative tactics. The child is perceived as innately “bad” and out-of-control, needing to be taught how to behave through fear and shame. Respect is demanded from children, rather than being something children can be trusted to return to us when they have been treated respectfully from the time they are born.

 On the other end of the spectrum are parents who are reticent to engage in conflict and will do almost anything to avoid their child’s disagreement. These parents hope boundaries will be accepted by their toddler, so they set limits timidly, softly, perhaps with a wavering tone that asks “is this going to be okay with you?”

Perhaps they over-identify with their child’s feelings, so their instinct is to go out of their way to “make it work” in order to keep the child happy. The parent’s thought might be, “Why not avoid an emotional outburst whenever possible?”  The parent rationalizes, “I wanted to go to the bathroom alone this time, but I didn’t really need to.” Or “it’s probably okay for us to be late while I wait for Alice to decide she’s ready to get into her car seat. I can’t force her.”

 There is a lack of recognition of the healthy need toddlers have to express their burgeoning will by resisting whatever their parents want…and their need to release intense feelings.

These parents might worry that their child’s spirit will be crushed or she’ll stop loving or trusting them if there is a conflict of will. They coax or distract their child into the behavior they want (or out of the behavior they don’t want) rather than risk being the mean guy that says “no”.

 “Basically, most parents are afraid of disciplining their children because they are afraid of the power struggle. They are afraid of overpowering the child, afraid they will destroy the child’s free will and personality. This is an erroneous attitude. “         Magda Gerber

 Passive parents often give too many choices, overanalyze or respond ambiguously when children need a definitive, honest intervention. In the extreme, when a child hits a peer her parent might ask her, “Was that a good choice?” (Hard to believe, but I know someone who witnessed this.)

Every tear a child sheds goes straight to the sensitive parent’s heart. But no matter how caring these parents are, the child’s testing continues. It has to, because the child is still not getting the help she needs.

 “There is no way over-indulged children are going to be happy, because they seldom get direct, honest responses from their parents. …When you say “No,” really mean it. Let your face and posture reflect “No” as well”Gerber

These children might seem adrift and uncomfortable much of the time. There may be a lot of demanding, crying and whining rather than healthy coping and resilience, which can send even the kindest, gentlest, most loving parents over the edge.  “How could our child keep pushing us when we are so loving, kind and respectful?”  But the child’s behavior is not in spite of the parent’s efforts to please, or their gentle, peaceful attitude. It is because of it.

If this passive approach continues, these children can become unpleasant company, not only for their parents, but for their peers, teachers, family and friends.

 “A positive goal to strive for when disciplining would be to raise children we not only love, but in whose company we love being.”Gerber

Guess which of these two discipline approaches I have more experience helping parents with? That might be because “follow the child” philosophies like the one I teach (RIE’s Educaring Approach) can confuse parents about their role. Parents are encouraged to respect their babies, trust them to develop skills naturally according to their inborn timetable and lead play.

As facilitators of these aspects of child development, rather than teachers, we learn to observe, practice staying out of the way. But this must not be confused with passivity — it is mindfulness.

I (Janet Lansbury) recommend these respectful parenting perspectives:

Positive Child Guidance: A Look At Discipline vs. Punishment by Amanda Morgan, Not Just Cute

The Secret To Turning A Toddler’s “No!” Into A “Yes!” and Let’s Talk by Lisa Sunbury, Regarding Baby

How To Raise Decent Children Without Spankings Or Time-Outs by Emily Plank, Abundant Life Children

I Stuggle To Balance Boundaries And Freedom and The Most Valuable Parenting Phrase After “I Love You” by Suchada Eickemeyer, Mama Eve

Entitlement And The Pursuit Of Happiness by Rick Ackerly, The Genius In Children

No Bad Kids – Toddler Discipline Without Shame (9 Guidelines), Setting Limits With Toddlers – The Choices They Can’t Make, and When Respect Becomes Indulgence on this blog

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