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Respecting Children's Bodies
Infants need constant intervention by adults – they must be fed, changed, dressed, lifted, wrapped, carried and more. Older children obviously become more independent as they grow, but still need constant help and yes, occasional prodding to get through a day. Showing regard for children's bodies during these continuous interactions is an important way to establish a pattern of respectful parenting.
When my first daughter was born, I knew I wanted to consciously work to be a parent who was respectful of her children. Kids are people, not appendages or belongings or inconveniences, and I wanted to express that as my children grew. But how that actually shows itself day-to-day, especially when they are just little lumps of infancy is more difficult than simply acknowledging the concept.
One of the first ways to do this is to recognize the autonomy of their physical bodies through asking permission, directly or tacitly, when interacting. Young babies, by necessity, have things "done to them" all the time. Simply announcing what that action will be before doing it will slow down the interaction and over time, give them a feel for your tone and the inflection of your voice, to expect an action. It also allows parents to practice this somewhat non-intuitive skill to establish that pattern before their children are old enough to really understand the actual words and their meaning.
What does this really mean?
Before picking a baby up, for example, actually say "I'm going to pick you up now." Talk them through a diaper change, explaining what you are doing and how it will feel. Talk about what you will do during their bath, or while dressing or undressing them. The constant communication will be good for their development anyway, and you will be establishing a pattern of respectful treatment and communication.
Eventually, this sort of "announcing" will turn to asking permission or allowing for acknowledgement that an action will be done with or done to a child. That doesn't mean that they have the ability to refuse basic care, but simply that they have consented willingly, or at least understand that something will happen to them before it actually happens.
What is surprising, once adopting this pattern is the extent to which you'll notice this doesn't happen in our society. Kids are simply plucked up and moved to another activity without warning or kids trying to work at a task are "assisted" without being asked if help is wanted (often with the goal of moving things along faster, which is hardly ever a goal of children). When first starting to acknowledge children's bodies as autonomous in this way it will seem odd, but in a short time it will be clear how unnatural it seems to do it any other way. It's a pet peeve of mine now whenever anyone touches or manages my girls' bodies without asking or at least notifying them first, even when it is done to be helpful.
Start to notice how you or other parents approach and handle children throughout the day and consider trying to slow down the interaction by announcing an intention or asking permission before handling their physical body. You may find it surprising how this subtle shift empowers children.
Respecting children's bodies is core principal of the RIE approach to childcare. While some consider RIE to be incompatible with attachment parenting (I tend to disagree with that sentiment), there are many wonderful principles to be absorbed about the treatment of children and respecting them as independent little beings. For more on RIE, consider the following books:
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