Conversational Touch

The “ultimate magic of attachment is touch.”   
– Daniel Stern, Diary of a Baby

Babies develop their sense of self through the felt-sense (physical and emotional) of their interactions with us. When we pick up a baby, change their diaper, or playfully interact through touch and movement, that baby is gaining an understanding of their body in movement. 

Our minds may be on more mundane issues while changing a diaper, but a baby is sensing their body moved smoothly or jerkily, with ease or excess force, and sensing what happens if they resist or allow the movement. We need not be aware of this at every moment, but if we understand that our babies’ developing sense of movement, and indeed, sense of self, are influenced by our touch, we can shift our awareness of our interactions enough of the time to support a rich learning process for them. 

Predictive Conversation and Conversational Touch

A study of infant language development pointed to the value of parents making “sensitive” responses to babies’ babbling. Researchers observed increased communicative ability in infants whose parent didn’t just imitate a sound being made, but rather modeled the words that their babies’ “sounds approximated and expanding on it (e.g., if the infant uttered “da-da-da,” the mother would say “Da-da is working. I am ma-ma”).” *

In the We Grow Together program, we explore a way of interacting through touch which correlates to the “sensitive” predictive conversation observed in this study. Parents learn to bond with their baby through “conversational touch”—hands-on interaction that sensitively mirrors and playfully expands upon a baby’s movements.  

As a baby makes movements toward rolling, we can explore the movement with them. We don’t correct, and we don’t show the ‘right way’.  Instead, we explore many options together. We can take hold of their leg and slowly sweep it across their body to try a multitude of different trajectories, noticing the possibilities together. Which directions seem more helpful towards rolling over, which may work better for rolling only to baby’s side, which seem suited more for kicking, or other functions. Like the mother who echoes “da da” and then begins an expanded verbal conversation, we mirror an initial movement and then use touch and movement to suggest and ask about alternative or more elaborate movements.  

Outcomes: Beyond Equifinality

Equifinality means that for typically developing babies, they will likely crawl, walk, and talk at their own pace — but they all reach similar abilities in the end. So why practice this approach when they’ll probably be fine without it?

Through conversational touch, the baby has the opportunity to develop a richer repertoire of movement. Often when a skill is learned, a baby’s attempts at exploration decrease, and with less experimenting comes less refinement of the skill (Why explore and experiment when we can reach well enough to get the toy we want?!). But with conversational touch and We Grow Together classes, parents can invite their babies to keep the avenues of exploration open, and feel closer to each other in the process. 

There are psychological and social benefits as well. Through these mindful exploratory movements together, parent and baby can bond more closely. They feel they are “in it together,” just as a parent and older child might feel when enjoying playing a game together. Parents in the We Grow Together program often realize they’ve made a profound shift from entertaining their baby to interacting. Some parents who feel distant and might have otherwise said they are “waiting for the baby to be older and able to play” realize that there’s a way to bond playfully and meaningfully through physical movement from the earliest days of their baby’s life.   

Article:  Pretending to Understand What Babies Say Can Make Them Smarter

Research and Development!

I’m very excited to share news of the research study of my classes, conducted by Dr. Carolyn Palmer, PhD., Developmental Psychologist at Vassar College! Our recently published article in the Infant Mental Health Journal is titled “Moving Into Tummy-Time, Together: Touch and Transitions Aid Parent Confidence and Infant Development.” In it, Dr. Carolyn Palmer, Barbara Leverone and I share our findings — that attending my classes led to improved tummy-time, fostered a more varied repertoire of movement, and pointed toward shifts in parent confidence as well. Here is the link to the abstract. More info to come! https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/imhj.21771

Confounding Baby Behavior!

Have you found yourself wondering why your baby does certain confounding things?  Wouldn’t you love to know what your baby is thinking?  For instance, after you give your baby a break from tummy time, does your baby instantly roll right back to their tummy even though they are exhausted from that position?  A classic baby experiment may give you a new understanding about your baby’s thought process.

In the video linked below, a mom shows her 8m old baby a toy and hides it under one of two handkerchiefs.  The baby reaches for the correct handkerchief and finds his toy.  Next, the mom clearly shows him that she has moved the toy under the second handkerchief.  Even though the baby clearly sees this, he still reaches for where the toy was the first time!  Why would he do this even though he saw where it was moved to?

This experiment is referred to as the “A not B error.”  The baby reaches for handkerchief A even though he sees that the toy is under B.  It’s a phenomenon that only lasts a few months, around ages 8 – 9 months of age.  It seems like a strange error to make, since the baby clearly sees the toy moving.  Piaget, believed that this error was due to a lack of the concept of “object permanence.”  More recently, development researchers have new, and intriguing ideas of what might be happening here.

“In human development, every neural event, every reach, every smile and every social encounter sets the stage for the next and the real-time causal force behind change,” wrote the late Esther Thelen, Developmental Psychologist and Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner.  What we may very well be seeing is the interconnectedness of a baby’s body and mind.  While the baby’s visual sense takes in the view of the toy in a new location, he has just organized his body to reach successfully under the “A” handkerchief.  The motor planning of that previous reach is a neural event that “sets the stage for the next” movement.  In a few months this baby will be able to feel that readiness to reach to A, but be able to override that motor-planning history and reach for the correct handkerchief.  But for now, the previous act of having planned the reach to “A” is so powerful, that the baby reaches to the wrong place to find the toy.

Similarly the baby who has recently learned to roll over, seems drawn as if magnetically to roll over even when they are very tired of being on their tummy!   That new movement of rolling, becomes so “attractive” that they roll even when they seemingly don’t want to do it.  After a time, the baby will begin to find other movements or “attractor states” to use Dr. Thelen’s language, and the “magnetism” of rolling over will fade.

While we can never really know what your baby’s experience is, it can be helpful to understand that your baby’s thinking (and emotional life for that matter) is inseparable from his bodily sensations.  Because your touch is so much a part of his sensation of his body, it means that you too are an inseparable part of this equation.

photo: © Oksana Kuzmina/fotolia

See “Cogsci-mom” demonstrate A not B error with her baby – even with see-thru cups!

Where Should My Pre-Crawling Baby Play?

Hi Dan,

Our son is now 7 months old, and he’s sitting up on his own, rolling all over the place (barrel rolling), and gets himself into a crawling position (all fours) and rocks back and forth a lot. I’m happy with the progress and letting him get to his milestones naturally and with encouragement, as I learned from your class!  We have him with a nanny all day, and I said to her that the best place for him to be is on the floor with lots of tummy time still.  Are there other types of positions/seats that I can put him in so he doesn’t have to be on the floor all day, and so he can experience other parts of the world?  I don’t want to get him a bumbo, exersaucer or walker, since I don’t think those are good for his legs or back.  Maybe his high chair and table with toys on his eating tray?  Or safely sitting up on the couch, so he sees more activity?
Would love your thoughts on this!
B

Dear B,

I agree – your son has learned so much in such a short time, and it seems likely that he’ll be crawling soon.  I agree with you that the floor is still the best place for him to be, but we all need a change of pace now and then.  Now that he’s sitting independently (which to me means he can bring himself to sit) I’d recommend that it’s perfectly reasonable to set him up in a highchair to play for 10-15 minutes or so for a little novelty.  What type of highchair you use does make a difference. I found that my own son sat remarkably better (taller and with more possibility to twist and turn in any direction) when he was in a Stokke “Tripp-Trapp” highchair than he was in the first one we had which was more akin to an old-man’s recliner.  If you have a big cushy recliner type highchair, I’d highly recommend considering something with a firm, flat seat like this.  There are plenty of similar modern chairs on the market now as well and they are designed to be used for years.  In fact, my 11 year old still sits on hers at the dinner table!   I think this would be a much more ideal option than the couch.  The other thing to keep in mind is how to vary his environment down on the floor.  This is a good time to make sure you have toys that will easily roll away such as balls or cylinders which will motivate him toward crawling.  There should also be some sturdy boxes or step stools, around for him to pull toys off of, and perhaps to bring his hands onto in order to come towards a kneeling position.

Take care and be well,
Dan

My Baby Hates Tummy-Time…But, My Baby Loves to Stand!

Why Standing your Baby may contribute to their difficulty in Tummy Time

My Baby Hates Tummy-Time…But Loves to Stand”
Does your baby hate tummy-time but love to stand up?  This is a common combination and there is a reason for them to appear together. Many parents, eager to notice what makes their baby happy and to follow their baby’s lead, fall into the habit of standing up very young babies.  This may seem fine, as babies often seem to really enjoy the position.  However, standing your baby before he can coordinate bringing himself to the position can result in practicing a lot of unnecessary stiffness and holding in the body.  For many babies standing along with other factors can add up to difficulty in tummy-time and other movements that are important developmentally.

Why it’s too early

When you stand your baby up before she can do it herself, she is in a constant state of catching herself from falling.  Because she hasn’t developed enough balance yet, and doesn’t know how to use her legs and feet for support, her body leans forward, back, and to the side.  With each lean away from her center of gravity she tenses her muscles to stop from falling, and often with too much muscle tone.

But isn’t your baby getting stronger?  Well his muscles may get larger as a result, but it isn’t an ideal way to do it.  An important part of strength is using muscles with coordinated effort – distributing the work through the body in a way that is efficient.  What often gets practiced when a baby is stood very early, is the opposite of efficient coordinated effort.  As the baby in this photo is stood up, he relies on the muscles in front (flexors) and back (extensors) to create the stability he needs, his shoulders shrug and arms stiffen, he knees may lock or grip his toes reflexively as well.  As a result, he practices contracting many muscle groups together inefficiently to create the necessary stability to feel safe.  Not only does he practice too much muscle tone, but inefficient combinations of muscle groups are used which work at cross purposes.  In short, he ends up contracting many muscles at the same time to stabilize himself and if he brings that same pattern of contraction to tummy time and other positions he will feel that it is difficult to be comfortable or to move the way he’d like.

Tummy-Time

When your baby is on her tummy, if she keeps her muscles contracted in a similar state to standing, she will be very uncomfortable.  She may not be able to lift her head at all, or she may not even be able to feel at rest on her tummy and instead may hold herself in a position where she is fighting gravity from the moment she touches down.  To give one example, here is a baby exploring how  to coordinate his body for lifting the head in tummy-time.   Tummy Time Baby - Flexors extensors

The extensors of the back contract enough to help lift the head, while the flexors, generally stay soft and lengthen.  Not only that, but any time he feels that he is exerting himself too much, he can rest his head on the floor.  Also notice just how much of his body he leans on to support himself – a very large base of support compared to two little feet!  Do you see how different this is than the pattern the baby practices when standing up?  In other movements different combinations of muscle groups fire, but in each one, there is quite a different pattern than the strong stabilizing pattern elicited when standing your baby up.

But My Baby Loves to Stand!
IMG_5508

Yes, it appears that your baby loves standing.  My colleague Barbara Leverone likes to re-frame this statement as, “My baby loves to see me and and he loves to push with his legs.”  The good news is you can give your baby what he loves in a way that is more developmentally appropriate than standing.  When he lies on his back, allow him to push on your legs or arms or the floor at the baby in this picture does, and use his legs to move his well-supported body.  Coo and chat with him while you do it.  He will love the feeling, and he gets to see you too.  The difference will be that he doesn’t have to stabilize his head in gravity without a chance to rest down to the floor whenever he needs.  And that change may make a big difference in your baby’s development.

Baby-Thoughts • Body-Thoughts

Do you ever wonder, “What is my baby thinking?”  Have you considered how your baby experiences thoughts since he or she don’t think in words?  It’s likely that a lot of baby-thoughts have to do with  bodily sensations.  In fact, your baby has an inner experience of you and of the world in which their thoughts and feelings are inseparable from the sensations of their own body.

Mom and Baby From Postcard, RiverdaleWhen you touch your baby with a “listening touch” as taught in Child’Space NYC classes, you will find that you connect to your baby in a very different way than you might when drawing their attention outward to a toy or book or some other external focus.  Instead you are joining them in a way that acknowledges their inner experience.   To paraphrase Dr. Ruella Frank, in that moment your baby “sees you see her and feels you feels her.”

This is a powerful practice for your baby and for you.  It can be an antidote to all the stimulation of modern life – as cautioned about in this article

Like meditation, it’s not complicated – it just may be hard to remember to find time for it amidst all the distractions and tasks involved in being a new parent. But if you do make the time (and it doesn’t take much) you’ll find there’s a great reward for doing so.  To begin, put away your phone, take off your apple watch, rest your hand on your baby look into their eyes and listen to what you feel.  Next, tell your baby what you’re feeling, they’ll appreciate hearing about it.

“The ultimate magic of attachment is touch. And this magic enters through the skin.” —Daniel Stern

The Tummy-Time “Movement”

Advice for parents looking for the best way to do tummy-time with their baby

Tummy-Time is a Movement, not a Position 

Are you concerned about helping your baby “do tummy-time correctly?”  Perhaps instead of a perfect push-up like you’ve seen in countless baby photos, she lays with her head down and turns it side to side, or maybe she even rolls her body a bit to her side and ends up in a twist. Not only are these and other possibilities typical, a variety of movements in “tummy” position (including that “push-up”) are beneficial for your baby.  Babies learn when they experience a wide range of movements and orientations, and understanding this can help make tummy-time a happier and more beneficial experience for your baby and for you.

Your Baby is not a CubeCube Baby

Phrases like “tummy-time,” “back to sleep,” and even “side-time,” which I coined in a recent article, can imply a static posture.  Similar to the way we describe yoga postures, these ways of talking about a baby’s body imply that there is an ideal shape or position to strive for.  However,  this kind of thinking can negatively influence how we as parents interact with our babies, because babies are wired to move!

We talk about our bodies as having a front and back and sides – like a cube.  But the human body is more cylindrical than our words describe.  Can you pinpoint the exact spot where your back ends and your side begins?  There is no exact point!  While a cube can lie on one side or another for any length of time, your baby’s torso is much more of a cylinder – made to shift weight constantly in both big and small increments — and it’s beneficial to give your baby  many opportunities to do so.

Tummy-Time for Cylinders

When parents are encouraged to see tummy-time as a fixed position (and often as an exercise), rather than a position to be in and move through, they often keep their baby there too long.  They don’t encourage or even allow all of the small movements that are important for the development of balance, weight shift, and more.  I encourage parents to see tummy-time as an orientation for movement rather than a posture.

Movement and Brain Development

All of the seemingly random small movements your baby does in tummy-time are significant experiences for brain development.  The experience of these movements are necessary for your child to build coordinated and efficient movement.  In her book Kids Beyond Limits, Anat Baniel writes on the subject of what she calls “random movements,” saying, “Those random movements of the more typical baby may not seem like much at the time.  But for the child’s brain, they provide a rich flow of experiences and information that are absolutely necessary for the brain to eventually develop controlled and effective movements and actions.”

Suggestions for more Dynamic Tummy-Time:

1 Watch and touch your baby during tummy-time, not the clock.

2 Encourage babies who don’t yet lift their head to follow your voice and turn and look to the other side.

3 You can allow your baby to pass through tummy-time repeatedly – roll baby there and back again slowly. Don’t worry about  staying for a long “workout” each and every time.

4 Have small, graspable toys nearby for baby to reach for – this requires shifting weight more to one side, and will give baby important practice with movements.

5 A Child’Space class or private session can give you many ideas that are specifically appropriate for your baby.  See www.childspacenyc.com for a session in NYC.  For other locations, see the North American Child’Space site here.

Dan Rindler is a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner (’06) and a Child’Space Method Trainer, having studied with the method’s originator, Dr. Chava Shelhav.  He has worked as a staff member at the Feldenkrais Institute of NYC, and is currently in private practice in Brooklyn and Manhattan.  Dan is the director of Child’Space NYC, a program that offers private sessions and classes throughout New York City.

Columbia U Early Head Start

Dan + Kira and Dolls
Dan + Kira Demo With Baby Dolls at Columbia U. Early Head Start

Kira Charles and I had the great pleasure to present Child’Space Method to the staff of Columbia University Early Head Start located in Inwood, NYC.  Our half-day workshop focused on helping parents to bond with their newborn babies using touch and movement techniques of the Child’Space Method.  We were so moved to hear about the population that these wonderful educators work with – mostly recent immigrants living in very difficult conditions.  The  feedback was wonderful – they said things like, “I’ve been looking for an approach that respects infants as human beings the way Child’Space does.”  Or, “I realize how much more I need to be aware in my own body, in order to help the infants and parents I work with.”

I am very interested to connect with more social service agencies to present Child’Space, or to arrange Child’Space classes.  Please leave feedback here in the comments section below this post if you have connections to an organization that might be interested.  Thanks everyone!

Anti-Bumbo

BUMBO on the Curb
Kick your Bumbo to the curb!

As many of you know, I’m not much of a fan of the Bumbo seat for most babies.  I came across an excellent article by Rebecca Talmud, a pediatric PT in Park Slope this week which details many reasons to consider before using this device with your baby.   Bumbo Article link

Here’s some info that may help clarify the article.

Anterior Pelvic Tilt:  This baby is sitting fairly tall – his pelvis tips forward somewhat to form a base of support under his spine.

anterior pelvic tilt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posterior Pelvic Tilt:  A newborn is unable to tilt their pelvis forward when seated, their backs are rounded, and there is not a good base of support from the pelvis.  (This example is from a ridiculous stock photo found online – Don’t try this at home!)  This is the positioning of the pelvis that I believe the Bumbo elicits from babies placed in the seat.

Posterior Tilt

Side-Time!

by Dan Rindler, GCFP

IMG_5536

“Back to Sleep” is a phrase every new parent has heard countless times, to describe what is considered the safest positioning for a sleeping baby.  In terms of floor-time, “tummy-time” is the word heard most often.  But aren’t there more options?  Of course! There are at least1 two more possibilities for lying down – side-lying on the left or right -which are almost never mentioned. Instead of exploring “side-time”, parents of a baby who is rejecting tummy-time will often be advised to use a chair or bumbo seat to avoid developing a flat spot on the back of baby’s head.  I’m glad to share that there’s a much better way.

Side-Time and Tummy-Time

Babies who are rejecting tummy time will almost always accept being rolled to side-lying more readily than lying prone.  They may fuss somewhat at first (and you should respond accordingly when they do) but after a short time of getting used to it, many tummy-time refusers will lie happily on their side.  It’s a wonderful option for any baby who needs to vary their position from lying mostly on the back of their head.

Benefits of “Side-Time”

Imagine yourself lying on your back for just a moment.  How much effort would it take to transition to a new position?  Now imagine yourself lying on your side, and ask yourself the same question.  Can you feel that even in your imagination it’s clear you’d be much more ready to roll from your side than from your back?  On your side, you have a more narrow base of support, and it’s much easier to tip your weight forward or back into rolling.  For this reason, a baby on her side may feel she has more possibilities – she may not stay in one position for as long as when she is on her back.  This is a good thing!  Babies are constantly learning about their bodies and selves through movement.  Babies who feel no possibility for movement will have a very different sense of both their bodies and “agency” — their ability to affect themselves and their environment.  As your baby gets used to being on the side, he or she will become aware of having more choices for changing position than when on the back or tummy.

Side-TimeFlat Spots and Side Time

Have you noticed a flat spot on the back of your baby’s head?  A recent study found that 47% of babies had some degree of flattening of the skull (known as plagiocephaly) by the age of about two months.2  This happens largely from the head resting in the same position during sleep and many waking hours as well.  When you introduce side-time to your baby, you help him break the habit of resting on that same habitual spot that his head always seems to gravitate to.  Unlike during much of tummy-time, where the head is lifted, he will bear weight on different areas of the skull, helping that flat area to round out over time.

How to Help Your Baby Find Comfort in Side-Time

  • Lay your baby on their back on an uncluttered area on the rug, floor pad, etc.
  • Have some face-to-face time, making sounds, making faces.
  • Hold your baby’s leg and gently bend it knee toward chest or out to the side
  • Bring baby’s bent leg across their body to roll them slowly and gently to their side.
  • If your baby doesn’t turn her head immediately, you can wait and give her time to turn her head, or start over and move slower.
  • Find a comfortable spot to put down your baby’s leg – sometimes in front of the leg on the floor helps babies balance on their side longer.
  • Gently press down on your baby’s body to help her settle into the floor.

You should always consult your doctor before trying any new approach with your baby.  For more support, you can contact a Child’Space Practitioner for a class or private session.  [email protected]

Notes:

  1. See my upcoming article, “Your Baby is not a Cube” for even more ideas about positioning your baby on the floor.
  2. “Pediatrics” August 2013 Issue

www.childspacenyc.com