The key word in Magda Gerber’s philosophy is RESPECT . . . respect for your baby and respect for yourself, the parent. An awareness of your child’s point of view, as well as your own, will greatly help in building a respectful relationship. Such a relationship will be reciprocal—the child’s nature will reflect back the love and respectful handling and attention he has received. Magda’s approach involves a heightened awareness of the subtleties in the daily caring routines of an infant-parent relationship.
When you pick up your baby, first tell him what you plan to do. And when you want to put him down, tell him that, too. Simple! But how often people grab babies and plop them down like they were little dolls—loveable, but empty-headed. Talk to your child as if you are having a conversation with him. Help him to feel he has a thinking, feeling part of whatever you are doing to him and for him. Magda talks to children with such dignity. She treats them all, from infants to toddlers, with such respect. Respect for the child is the key to understanding Magda’s philosophy. What happens when you respect someone is that you put a little distance between yourselves. That distance sets the two of you apart from each other, so that you can see each other more clearly.
Allow the child to experience conflicts and let him be active in them. Any problem that the child can handle by himself is good. Let him take the initiative as much as possible. For example, Magda moves the box where Daniel’s truck has rolled. She doesn’t hand him the truck. She lets him discover where it is; he sees it behind the box, crawls over to it, feels proud that he found it. With an older child, you direct him in a questioning way so that he can solve the problem by himself, thus learning to trust his own ability. It’s not “There’s the ball over there.” Instead say “Where is the ball? Do you think it’s over there? Where do you think it is?” Include him in the problem and in the solution.
The crying child is not instantly retrieved (if it’s obviously not an emergency), but rather the mother remains calmly and peacefully in the child’s view, her face not a mirror of his pain, but with an expression of strength and solace. The crying child crawls or walks over to mother. She lets him experience pain or sorrow without grabbing it away from him, and he is allowed to choose when he wants her comfort.
Try to hold back as much as possible before intervening with two fighting children. When you must help, try not to interpret their feelings. You verbally reflect what you see. Reflect. Magda uses that word a lot. It’s really another form of keeping your distance and seeing things more clearly. Avoid imposing your opinions or emotions. When the fighting involves two angry children (old enough to understand and respond to verbalization) both pulling at the same toy, you simply restate the conflict as you see it. “I see you both want that toy. Steve, you want it. Paul, you want it, too.” By stating the problem and not imposing any value judgments, you give both children the feeling that you really understand where they’re at. All the time you are speaking with the “aggressor,” you are being gentle to him. If it made you furious to see him biting or pulling hair or beating on the other child, let him know it, but don’t bombard his aggression with your own aggression. Any angry response by you would simply reinforce or teach more aggression. At the same time you are gently calming the “aggressor,” you are equally calming the “victim.” Don’t overdo your sympathy to him. Let him know you are sorry he’s unhappy, see that he’s not hurt anywhere, and get him back on his feet. Too much sympathy and fussing over a “victim” makes him enjoy being victimized. This gentle approach to handling a screaming, “fur-flying” moment works on babies, too. They might not understand all the words, but by your saying “gentle-gentle” and stroking those poking, pinching, pulling little hands, the message gets through. Your peaceful attitude calms things down. By your physically being gentle, the child learns what gentle means.
Choices should be in a child’s life as much as possible, but they must be true choices. “Cheese or apple with juice?” is a true choice. You are prepared to give him what he wants. A false choice is “Would you like to go to the market now?” when you know your child has to go with you. He doesn’t really have a choice, and that’s deception.
Orders can be very good. Give the child simple, uncomplicated, direct statements. “I don’t want you to go outside the gate.” No long explanations are necessary. Simple “I” orders expressing your desires are enough for the child and easy to understand.
Food: Give the child less than what he wants so he’ll ask for more. This way he can ask several times more for food and he will be eating as much as he wants, not as much as you want. Always keep a positive approach to food. Don’t urge him to eat more than he wants. He should not be made to feel that he is eating to please you. This “ask-for-more” approach satisfies both the child and parent. The child feels totally in control of what he wants to eat and you, his parent, are pleased with his requests. You are helping him to enjoy food and the whole ritual of mealtime, and he’s making you happy.