“…and WAIT!” by Magda Gerber

“…and WAIT!” by Magda Gerber
Once, many years ago, I saw an infant lying on the floor who was trying to catch something in a very dreamy, beautiful way. I didn’t see anything but I knew that the child saw something. Only as I walked around did I realize that the dust in the air was creating a rainbow, and that’s what the child saw. That experience stayed with me as a symbolic reminded, so that now when people do things, I want to say: “That child may just see the rainbow—don’t interrupt. Wait.”

Time for uninterrupted play

The less we interrupt, the more easily infants develop a long attention span. According to many books, a baby has a short attention span; but that is not quite true. If infants are well cared for, if they can do what they happen to be interested in at that time, and if nobody interrupts, they have much longer attention spans than we give them credit for. Country to grown-up’s expectations, infants do not usually get overly frustrated by struggles during play. When a toy gets caught, or a ball rolls away, they may even enjoy the situation, and certainly from it—if adults do not solve the problem for them.

To a degree, the child’s response to potential frustrations is influenced by the adult’s reaction. Even a very young child will look around to check out the adult’s reaction when one of these puzzling, unexpected events occurs. A calm, observant comment, such as “Oh, the ball rolled away,” will allow your baby to retain his role as initiator in his play and to choose how to handle the situation.

Sometimes parents who haven’t been paying much attention will suddenly realize it and say something like “Oh, you built such a nice tower!” And you know what happens? The child stops building the tower. Such an abrupt comment, rather than making a connection, interrupts play. If real sensitivity exists, then when the child looks up and sees the parent’s eyes, then the parent’s eyes are quietly there. That can be the time to make the comment.

Selective Intervention

Wait! In so many situations, to wait means to allow problems to resolve themselves.

Selective intervention means knowing when not to intervene, and this is more difficult that
intervening indiscriminately.

If an infant gets into a difficult situation (climbing up, for example), it is important to allow her to do whatever she can do, which means we must wait and wait and wait. But we do come near so the infant knows we are available, which brings about a certain amount of security. Rather than give the message, “When you are in trouble, you scream and I rescue you,” we would like to convey the feeling, “I think you can handle it, but if not, I am here.”

Often you will find out that, even though you thought you had to help, the child didn’t really need your help. I prefer to wait until the infant really lets me know, “I cannot handle it any more.” (And if this happens, it’s very important to know why—is she tired?)

You might just ask, even a child who does not yet speak, “Do you need some help?” or, as a last resort, perhaps, “Do you want me to help you down?”

In providing infants with the minimal help they need to overcome an impasse, we demonstrate our trust in their competence and allow them to enjoy mastery of their own actions.