Saturday, May 26, 2012

Supporting Natural Movement in Infancy

When children learn through their own discovery, they feel the joy of accomplishment, and they are able to feel the reward of their new skills in their own way. Allowing a child the freedom to move in their own way and when they are ready is the core of my interactions with infants. Children learn the most through their own discovery, and this is true since birth. When a child is born, they have instincts which they enlist to support their survival. These instincts never go away and instead become the driving force behind how they move, learn and grow.

When we give an infant the feeling of safety and the space to move freely they are able to discover the movements for themselves in their own way, building basic trust between child and caregiver and self-confidence. For a newborn infant laying on their back on the floor is the most natural position. It is from there that they use their muscles and self-motivation to roll, reach, twist, and explore their body's growing capabilities.
One way to support this discovery is by always laying an infant on their back when placing them on the floor. By doing this, you can give the child a chance to go through the entire range of motions it takes to get to their preferred position, whether it be rolling to their belly, pulling up or moving to a self supported sit. By allowing a child to naturally move to whatever position feels best, their movements build on each other, constantly refining at each step. This is why self-supported sitting is often one of the last things learned by an infant, as it takes a combination of many learned skills, gained through a series of movements.
These natural discoveries of movement are also supported by allowing the infant to do for themselves as much as possible. While it is true that an infant must rely on their caregiver for almost everything, even from birth there are movements which we can allow for them to figure out for themselves, while offering emotional support. This can look like noticing that your newborn is hungry and begins to root for a nipple. Instead of instantly offering the breast, by taking a pause, breathing and allowing that time and space for the infant to find it for themselves, we are supporting our trust that the infant is competent enough to discover the milk for themselves. We know that they are born with a need to survive, and when you take that moment, you can share the moment together. At first there can be much frustration, crying and struggling, but this is the infants way of processing the emotions that go along with learning something new. Soon, their new skills will create a child who is self assured and confident, and this confidence can extend in to all things. 

This moment can also be an awakening for caregivers as well. When you share that moment of discovery, you can feel the joy that the child feels each time they gain a finer mastery of a skill, or when they look at you with that look of pride as they do for themselves. It is a humbling experience, and teaches the adults the benefits of slowing down. Giving time and space as the caregiver of young children, is almost like giving a gift to the children we interact with. It allows them to show us their competence, while also building a self-confidence that is life long. Our role is to provide that safety which a child needs, so they are able to feel confident. When a child feels safe, they are able to fully explore those inborn needs that fuel their movement and curiosities.

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