Expert: ask baby before changing nappy

Sunday Star Times 29/11/2009

Parents should be treating babies and toddlers with more respect, a visiting academic says, and that means talking to infants as if they are adults, never putting them in high chairs or leaving them in car seats, and steering clear of many popular toys. From day one, early childhood expert Polly Elam says, parents should also consult their baby before picking them up, changing their nappy or taking them on outings. That means talking the baby through what you are about to do, before you do it – and waiting for their response. If parents skip this consultation, they should later apologise to the baby and explain why they acted hastily.

Critics say the strategy, called Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE), is a waste of time for busy parents. But Elam says it leads to confident, happy children with high self-esteem who can solve problems. California-based Elam travels the world teaching parents and childcare staff about RIE, which first took hold in Los Angeles in 1980 after being developed by Magda Gerber, an early childhood expert and paediatrician who ran an orphanage in Hungary. Gerber based RIE on earlier work by paediatrician Emmi Pikler. RIE is now taking off in New Zealand, with more than two dozen early childhood centres here already using aspects of it, or its sister philosophy, Pikler. These centres are receiving glowing Education Review Office reports, and aspects of RIE have also been written into New Zealand’s early childhood curriculum Te Whaariki.