I chose both of these books to read as I continue to ask the fundamental question: “Now that I’ve had my gentle, amazing HypnoBirth, how can I carry HypnoBirthing’s philosophies into the raising of my child?” Magda Gerber is famous as the founder of the “RIE” philosophy, which stands for “Resources for Infant Educarers,” a style of raising children from birth to the age of two. She founded RIE in 1973 in Los Angeles, and I’ve found that some of the parenting books that I gravitate towards, namely No Bad Kids and Elevating Child Care, both by Janet Lansbury, refer to her work frequently. I liked the title of The Gentle Parenting Book, and Sarah Ockwell-Smith’s name rang a bell in my mind, so I thought I would give her book a read as well.
The first thing I’d like to say about both of these books is that they are amazing in their own ways, and their material is very similar. There are a few basic differences between the books, but I am so glad I read both of them and would highly recommend them to any HypnoBirthing parents asking the question, “Ok, what next?” The Gentle Parenting Book emphasizes instinctive parenting — trusting your own instincts and basic judgments for how to raise your child while treating your child with respect as an autonomous being. It also recommends ignoring all of the people who want to give you advice or criticize you for your parenting skills. I feel like every page reinforced the instinctive parenting that I’ve strived for as I’ve raised my daughter. Sarah outlines the seven C’s: Connection, Communication, Control, Containment, Confidence and Consistency, as the ways to maintain that respect for your child, and at the end of each chapter, she details how the seven C’s come into play with every category of parenting your child. She stresses that gentle parents come in all shapes and sizes: parents who have home births, hospital births, Cesarean births; parents who nurse until their child is two, parents who formula feed; parents who send their children to public schools and parents who home school. It’s about researching your options and making the very best decision for you and your family with the life circumstances you have, as well as taking care of yourself and making sure that your needs are met too. It was a beautiful parallel of the HypnoBirthing philosophy. She even uses the acronym that I teach from the HypnoBirthing syllabus: “Use your BRAINS: What are the Benefits, what are the Risks, what Alternatives can you choose, what do your Instincts tell you, and what is the harm of doing Nothing?” The topics she covers are broad and apt: choosing childcare providers, handling tantrums, gentle discipline, toilet training, picky eaters, television, new siblings, and much more.
Your Self-Confident Baby is also about gentle parenting, and maintains the need for respecting your little ones as they explore their boundaries and challenge you. I would say that one difference between the books is that Gentle Parenting has examples of parenting from birth to age seven, while Your Self-Confident Baby has a narrower range of birth to the age of two. Another difference is that Magda also seems to create more structure and instruction for parenting skills, such as only allowing toddlers to eat while sitting at a table, or letting them cry for a little while before rushing in to “help” them to see if they can help themselves first. The pause encourages them to solve their own problems and grow competent and confident instead of waiting for someone to help them. The RIE philosophy in Your Self-Confident Baby essentially trains babies and toddlers in the skills needed to be autonomous, confident, happy children while being connected to their parents. She encourages parents to childproof sections of their homes so that the babies and toddlers can play independently of their parents without endangering themselves. In communication, she emphasizes reflecting back to children what you think they are experiencing, such as, “You both want the doll. Rikki took the doll from you, Anna, and you didn’t like it.” This is the same thing that Gentle Parenting teaches, and I love that parents are reflecting the child’s emotions back to him/her instead of trying to fix their problems or minimize their emotions(i.e., “You’re fine.”). The only thing I found unsettling about the book is that she recommends the Ferber method of sleep training, which has been widely panned as a traumatic way to train your children to sleep on their own, leaving them feeling abandoned and shut-down. I could see her perspective to it, though: if you treat your child respectfully and don’t just leave them to cry it out, you can teach your child quickly that it’s safe and ok to sleep in their bed by themselves without any tricks or techniques from their parents to “help” them fall asleep. They also learn that their parents are close by, and they feel secure when they fall asleep. While the Ferber method has been discredited, I can see that Magda’s interpretation of the Ferber method might have some gems to it, especially since my four-year-old still insists on falling asleep with either me or my husband in bed with her, and I can also see how I trained her to be this way. I also have to say that I treasure falling asleep with her, and I know that she’ll outgrow this soon enough and I’ll be yearning for the nights when I was snuggling up with my little girl and falling asleep together.
Now I have a story to tell. Just a few days ago, my daughter’s preschool class went on a field trip to the local pumpkin patch. There is a little girl in her class who is probably about two and a half years old and cute as a button. She’s been having difficulty integrating into the class, and as a parent volunteer on the field trip, I gravitated towards her to help her feel a little more secure as she stood and said repeatedly that she wanted her mother. I thought about what the books had said, about treating children respectfully and not just saying, “There, there. Everything is fine. You’ll be all right.” I thought about how I would reflect her emotions back to her, and how I could comfort her. What I said to her was “Your mother will be here soon,” which was true because at that time, class was ending in about 30 minutes. She kept saying that she wanted her mother, and I kept saying that her mother would be back soon. Well, all of a sudden, I realized that she had been holding onto her pee and was having a pee accident. She became very upset about it. As her teacher was changing her and she was crying, I knelt down at her level and said, “You had a pee accident. That must have been scary for you.” She nodded her head. Then I said to her, “I want to apologize to you. You were telling me you wanted your mommy, but what I really should have asked you was what you wanted your mommy for.” She nodded her head and said, “To help me go pee pee.” It’s hard to say why this interaction inspired me so much, except that in just a few minutes time, I really understood that treating children respectfully and striving to get into their worlds to understand their needs a little bit better is a powerful, powerful thing. I might have just comforted her and said, “You’re ok,” but by my getting to the root of her motivation, she felt more secure with me and actually relaxed right before her mother arrived to pick her up. And I learned a little bit more about questions to ask toddlers.
So, there it is. Read both of these books. They will teach you aspects of listening to your children that will blow your mind.