Tue | Mar 21, 2023

Allowing baby to be expressive

Published:Monday | April 5, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Emma Dalton-Brown, Gleaner Writer

How much freedom should we let our babies have when it comes to discovering the world around them? They are obviously not going to be exposed to the risky temptations, which might face teenagers, but there are other dangers like attempting to climb stairs, that toddlers do come across on a daily basis. So, do we keep our offspring locked away in the proverbial protective bubble, just to ensure that they are kept safe? What if we consider social graces and expectations? If a 15-year-old takes a book and rips it up, his parents would probably be cross with him, and be bewildered as to why he'd done it. If, however, a nine-month-old baby did the same thing, I'm willing to bet that the parents would not feel the same anger. Why is that?


I recently received an email from a person who had read my article entitled 'The importance of reading to babies'. In brief, the article discussed my 10-month-old son, who was becoming more curious about the world, and had taken to tearing the pages in the books I had been reading to him from birth. I decided to stop showing him these books while he went through this stage. My reader, however, had some suggestions for me:

'You haven't found a way to demonstrate to your child how to relate to a book in a caring way. It's all about mimicry, repetition and consistency (child-rearing is about 70 per cent of that, I think). I say this because my child has never ripped a book, or broken a glass, dropped a piece of china, etc. and that's not because he is ever kept away from those things. He is now eight years old. In fact, I encourage him to interact with these things, even as I set the parameters for doing so. I use words like 'gentle, gentle' when he is about to grab a book, shake my head no, and gently hand it to him, holding it back until I feel his energy change when he's taking it from me. I use these same words as I stroke the book, or turn the page, and encourage him to do the same thing. I remind him constantly that books are for loving - he used to hug the book and lay his cheek on it - too, too cute, I tell you. It's a constant refrain, told in all kinds of ways: Toys are for dropping and throwing, not books, etc. We make sad faces and comment when we see a book that is torn or mistreated, and talk about ways to repair books; we even make them together sometimes (it helps that book arts are an interest of mine). Reading is an opportunity for him, then and now, to sit still and listen with rapt attention to his parents read to him, even as he interacts with the book. He sees books as something he can return to over and over; if they're torn/destroyed, you can't do that (I am sure you are already, or will soon, have to endure reading the same book over, and over and over and over again ...) In fact, when he was three, he threatened to refuse to learn to read (hilarious really, since he thought he actually had control over his brain in this way) so that we would always have to read to him. We are past that now, but the habits we instilled since a baby are with him forever.'

I was floored! Not so much by the lecture, but more by the oppression which has been instilled upon this boy. He's never broken anything? One wonders what would happen to him if he dared to spill water, or drop a piece of ice on the kitchen floor. I mean seriously, was the word 'gentle' really what stopped him from destroying books? I love literature, as much as anyone could, so really, I do teach my son 'how to relate to a book in a caring way.' I also keep our flatware away from him. However, it does not mean that a few pages haven't been torn, or a plate hasn't been broken by a freely moving hand!

Given the choice, provided it's not infringing on other people's space, I think I'll stick to allowing my baby the freedom of expression!