Why Interdependence Is Better Than Independence

As we celebrate Independence Day, I think about how our culture is consumed by independence.  We constantly push children from birth to grow up as fast as possible. We don’t value interdependence at all.

The first thing most parents push their infants to do is hurry up and sleep through the night. Now, I understand that it is exhausting to have to parent a child throughout the night, but sleep is a need, not a skill.  No one can force children to sleep.

As I have written about many times, some parents try to force their infants to sleep “independently” by letting them cry-it-out.  Since crying is an infant’s only way of communication, leaving an infant in a dark room to cry alone releases huge amounts of stress hormones to his/her brain.  Sure, infants eventually stop crying and “sleep” when left to cry-it-out, but it’s not the healthy sleep people believe it is. Rather, their brains are literally shutting down from stress.

Then the learned helplessness sets in. Infants learn to mistrust themselves and their caregivers when their cries are not consistently and respectfully responded to. Just because allowing them to cry “worked” and they appear fine, doesn’t mean damage didn’t occur. As an early childhood professional, I cannot recommend cry-it-out ever. Plus, just because they no longer cry out at night does not mean that they still don’t wake up hungry, scared, cold, hot, sick, in pain, or with a soiled diaper in the middle of the night.  They just don’t bother to cry for help because nobody will come.

Infants need a response when they cry. A little fussing with our support as they fall asleep is ok, but ignoring their outright cries is not. Keep your babies close and create a bedtime routine based on your and their needs.  The time you spend parenting at night will pay off and soon enough they’ll be sleeping on their own and you may miss the quiet time at night with your little one.

Another way that we push independence on infants and young children is that we manipulate infants’ bodies to crawl, sit up, and walk before they are ready. I strongly believe God created infants to develop naturally without our “helping” them along. We don’t need to push infants or young children to do things that they’re not ready to do. Don’t hold them back, but don’t push them either.

Also, when children are forced to obey out of fear of being punished, they further learn that their parents cannot be trusted. Plus, we force them to become independent before they’re really ready by expecting too much of them. Another thing is that they learn to hide stuff from their parents. They learn that they “themselves” are the only ones that they can truly depend on. This can negatively affect their adult relationships as well as their relationships with God.

We need to do our best to show our children they can depend on us and God.  I believe encouraging teamwork and interdependence within the family is the best way to grow independent children and adults.


Feeding Infants and Young Children

Feeding/nursing infants should be a social time (except in the night when we dream nurse/feed) for infants and parents. Infants love to gaze into our eyes while getting fed. We should softly talk to our infants while feeding them. I often see parents missing out on valuable bonding time because they do other things while nursing/feeding the infant. It’s important that we communicate to the infant that we enjoy being with him/her. It shouldn’t be a chore to nurse/feed him or her.

Asking infants if they want another bite or to nurse/drink is also important instead of shoveling food into their mouths.  I’ve seen parents shove a bottle or a spoonful of food into a baby’s mouth in order to “shut them up.”  Not only is this disrespectful, it could cause the infant to choke.

I strongly believe in feeding infants and toddlers when they are hungry.  Their stomachs are small.  They need to eat more frequently than we do and have smaller portions.  They also get dehydrated quicker than adults.  I also believe we shouldn’t force children to finish their meals.  Forcing infants and young children to ignore their hunger and satiation cues can mess up their body and lead to eating disorders later on.

While encouraging children to try new foods is important, I don’t think it’s fair to force children to eat foods that they truly dislike.  I also understand making a whole separate meal for them isn’t practical, so we should do our best to include one dish within the meal that the child likes.  For picky eaters, and really all children, letting them have a say a couple nights a week as to what they want for dinner as well as allowing them to be an active part in meal prep can go a long way in encouraging healthy eating.

Finally, try not to scrape food off infants and toddlers’ mouths with the spoon. I have to be fed myself and I don’t allow people to scrape food off my mouth and chin. It feels gross and isn’t respectful. Wipe their mouth with a cloth. Telling them before you wipe them mouths helps them cooperate slightly better.


Why Talking to Infants is So Important

I taught the Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) Approach at a community college a few years ago, and they have a child development lab where early childhood college students learn how to work with young children. After one of my RIE sessions where I discussed talking to infants and toddlers before doing things with them, some of the students got to see RIE in action at the child development lab.

The infant room had just gotten a new infant. She was just 6 weeks old. *6 weeks.* I always emphasize the 6 weeks part of this story every time I tell it. You’ll see why in a moment. Anyway, the teachers in the infant room told the college students that every time someone tried to pick up this child, she’d get very startled and scream. The teachers didn’t know how to help her. The college students decided to give RIE a try.

They went to the baby, got on her level, made eye contact, and said, “Hey —–, I’m going to pick you up. Are you ready?” They held out their hands to the baby as they said this to her and waited a few moments before slowly picking her up.

Guess what?!  The baby didn’t cry!  It worked!

A 6-week-old cannot yet understand words. But they do pick up on speech innotations and body language. This is why talking to infants and toddlers is so important!