This is not a how to book but really a view of the world book that can help you in your daily life with babies and small children.
Here is the big idea that is at the core of the book and maybe at the core of our uncertainty as parents today. Liedloff feels that every species, including us, has developed time-proven & highly adaptive methods of raising the young. Our problem, she feels, is that when we became "civilized", and so gave our intellect the upper hand, we have lost touch with how humans raise children in the traditional way. So in only the last 3,000 years, we threw away the experience of millions of years. The one set of theories that we tend not to value are the practices of traditional people. After all what do they know they are primitive?
She believes that if we are humble, we can learn a lot from the 4 million years of accumulated wisdom that is innately in us and in our children. 4 million years is enough time to make this wisdom adaptive. We intuitively know what to do and our babies know what they need.
Liedloff spent 3 years with tribal people in South America who opened a window of insight into some ideas that we have lost. Here are some of them.
1. Touch in the first 6 months is the most important foundation for development. Babies are born about 6 months before they can do the simplest thing such as sit up on their own. They are born in effect prematurely. Why? Because our brain is so large for our size that women's bodies could not adapt to having the large pelvis required to take us to term without giving up being able to walk and run. In traditional societies, babies are not separated from their mothers in the first 6 months of life. They are kept in a sling and/or hip all the time including all night. The traditional baby is not however the centre of the mother's life, it is simply attached to it. Traditional babies are thus constantly in motion, as they were in the womb. They are highly stimulated by witnessing their mother's life. They are touched all the time. They hear adults talking all the time.
Aha! You say impractical for today and we will spoil the baby. Here is Liedloff's big insight. The well attached baby becomes intensely independent. It seems that there is a quota of touch that we need when an infant which if we get it releases this hunger for dependency. Liedloff goes the other way. She suggests that our hunger for the touch that many of us missed in the first 6 months drives much of our cravings for the rest of our life. Modern research supports the power of attachment as the driver for high lifetime coping and learning skills. Touch is at the heart of attachment for both child and mother.
2. Traditional People make it clear to infants and babies that while they are loved that they are the junior member of the society. Horror! Children not the centre of the universe? What Liedloff means is that traditional children are given their quota of high touch and then are put into a self directed learning environment. If a child approaches an adult for physical love or attention, the adult will respond by giving it what it wants. But the adult will not make a big deal out of this attention and will usually carry on with whatever it is doing at the time. The adult continues to cook, talk to her friends - whatever. The point? In traditional societies, children find their place.
3. Traditional children are exposed to lots of words - they hear adults talk all the time - but the principal method of communication with infants and toddlers is by touch and not by argument or discussion. Touch is used over eye contact as well. The essence of learning in traditional societies is by experience and not by words. Parents do not reason with a 2 year old. If the 2 year old acts out, a very rare occurrence in high touch children, they are ignored. The anger is vented on nothing. Love is expressed not in words but in touch and in physical care
4. Children learn what risk is by themselves. We went out and bought a stair gate as Hope became a toddler. We were concerned that she would fall down the stairs. A friend cautioned us. "One day you will forget and as Hope does not know the risks herself she could fall". So we taught Hope instead how to approach stairs by letting her fall and catch her. A cheap lesson that required us to be close but not stop the first part of the accident. We then taught her to recognize stairs and to go onto her tummy and toboggan down.
Traditional societies do even less intervening than we did and let the kids work out most risks on their own. The point? When you learn that the stairs have risk or that if you fall into the pool it is bad, you don't need a fence to keep you from getting into trouble. There is less risk when the child learns about the risk than in any action that you can take. More importantly you learn that there is risk in the world and how to cope systemically with it - important lessons.
We will explore attachment and touch a great deal as time goes on. We will find ways of bringing this into the reality of life as we live it today