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September 27, 2019

Respectful Communication with Your Newborn - Montessori Baby Week 2

Somehow another week with precious Teddy has flown by. My tiny, floppy newborn is changing and growing daily. It’s one of the most bittersweet things for me as a parent- watching my children grow. I love newborns, and this time is so fleeting.

Using respectful communication with your newborn - why it's important and practical tips to make it happen

With a newborn it can be so easy to just think of them as this empty vessel that needs to be filled. But in reality babies are born fully human, and we as parents get the privilege of watching them unfold and discovering who they are. And this process starts with respectful communication. Just like you would speak respectfully to any other child, a newborn child also needs this type of communication. In fact, a newborn may even need more - since they are completely new to your environment, your routine. 

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Maria Montessori observed how important it was for babies to be around adults (especially their parents) listening to them speak in order to fully develop their mother tongue. She said, "If you consider this absorbent mind in relation to language, you will understand how necessary it is to put a small child among people who speak well and correctly, and who talk a great is evident that in order for children to develop language, the little child must be brought into a society of adults who talk among themselves...Perhaps this is reason why small children start out in life without the ability to move; they need to be carried around by their mothers and therefore they are brought into the environment." {1946 London Lectures

It is through these early conversations, both listening and participating in them, that babies will learn their language. They are especially attuned to language and crave it as some of their first work. But, more importantly, these moments become an important point of connection between you and your child. 

"Children know when they are being asked a serious question or being given a choice. As you change or bathe an infant, rather than distracting him with a toy, look into his eyes, tell him what you are doing, ask questions, and give choices. The value of this communication full of love and respect cannot be overemphasized. It makes a baby want to talk to you, and the desire to communicate is the foundation for good language development." Susan Mayclin Stephenson, The Joyful Child 

So practically, what does respectfully talking your newborn through the day look like? For me with Teddy it means: 

  • Narrating my actions when interacting with him. "I'm taking off your pants to change your diaper. They are a beautiful blue, I really like the stripes." Basically, having a one way conversation with him but pausing where appropriate for him to join in the conversation. He may not be able to respond now, but soon he will. 
  • Asking if he is ready when moving his body and waiting for a response. "I'm going to pick up up now, are you ready?" Then I would wait a second or two, then pick him up. 
  • Offer choice only when there is a choice to offer. "Would you like to nurse?" Then wait for a response. At two weeks old, this is a non-verbal response. But I respect that communication. 
  • Don't offer choices when a choice isn't available. So don't ask if they want a bath if you are going to give one either way. 
  • Using real language with him, avoiding baby talk and made up words. 
  • Speak slowly and lovingly, looking at his face and connecting with him in the moment. 

I'm not going to lie, this all feels sort of awkward at first. It's hard to just break the routine of acting toward a newborn as if they can't hear, see, or understand what we are saying. It's also extremely hard to slow down and remember to do this when you have a bunch of other kids around. You just want that diaper to be changed. But, once you get used to it, this way of communicating really does become second nature. I especially love it when my older kids start talking to Theodore in this same way. "Me give you kiss baby Theodore {which he pronounces The-oh-door}, you ready?" ::heart melt::

"Too many parents and adults still miss the point and handle a child solely with the aim of accomplishing, as soon as possible, the more obvious physical tasks: changing, dressing, bathing, etc. The parents may be well-trained, efficient and capable of doing good work but they fail to use this time to have an encounter...So we tend to do these routines quickly instead of slowly...What we should do is to explain our actions to the infant, in a simple and short way, touch the different parts of his body gently, name them and ask him to collaborate with us." Silvana Quattrocchi Montanaro, Understanding the Human Being

Using respectful communication with your newborn - why it's important and practical tips to make it happen

We are sowing the seeds of consent, of respect, and of love through basic communication. And to me, that's worth slowing down and talking my baby through his diaper changes, of asking before I pick him up, or seemingly talking without response. 

"Feeding, bathing, and dressing are other opportunities for involvement and quality time...Tell your child what is going to happen next and follow through in a slow and gentle manner. All caregiving activities promote closeness when this attitude is maintained." Magda Gerber, Your Self Confident Baby

How do you speak to your newborn? Do you narrate your actions? 

Read week 2 of Augustus' Montessori baby journey here - MONTESSORI BABY WEEK 2 -- A PLACE IN THE FAMILY


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