SUPERBABIES: FROM STRESS TO DISTRESS by Magda Gerber
I imagine that many of you read the two articles: “The Gourmet Baby” in the January ’83 issue of California Magazine and “Bringing Up Superbaby” in the March 28, ’83 issue of Newsweek. I also hope that both articles made your adrenalin flow and motivated you to write your opinions to the editors.
While both articles seemingly share a common-sensical voice, by the very nature of mass-media reporting, the sensational gets more coverage and becomes more appealing than simple everyday living and coping with young children. While some people may respond to the voice of reason and begin to question what is really best for their infants, I fear many more will be lured by multi-colored parachutes and flashcards of painters and brain parts. As a result, more and more babies will be tossed up in the air, taught irrelevant information, fed data like computers, and treated like objects. I wonder if their trainers realize that time spent teaching the irrelevant deprives the child of time spent learning what would be relevant. It is like force-feeding the child with food he or she cannot digest.
We believe that infants do do what they can do — and should not be expected to do what they are not ready for. Infants constantly learn by taking in, finding out, discovering, understanding, integrating, and organizing the real world around them. This way of learning is a self-perpetuating and ever-widening spiral leading to more curiosity, more motivation better problem solving. Infants learn, practice, and use problem-solving skills continuously in their everyday lives. If only people would trust how perfectly babies are created, they could relax and enjoy all the daily miracles of natural development.
Parents are the first and most important teachers of their children. But parents have gotten so busy and are trying so hard to “teach” their children that they do not realize just what the children are learning from them. Children who are taught to pick the “right” picture or give the “right” answer learn to please. They do not understand the questions, which have no meaning for them, so they cannot make a real choice; all they learn is to respond to their parents’ cues. (Consciously or unconsciously parents do give cues.) Infants learn to perform, like an elephant in the virus who is not appreciated for just being an elephant, but for doing tricks.
How very sorry I feel for both the infants and their parents who are the unknowing victims of “gourmet” and “superbaby” fads. They do not realize the high price they may have to pay for their ambitious endeavors to speed up infancy and interfere with natural growth. They may never connect early stressful training with problems frequently encountered later on from sleeping and eating disorders to nervous and self-destructive behaviors (hair-pulling, nail-biting, stuttering, nervous tics, anorexia); from disinterested, bored, and unmotivated students to early school dropouts and drug abusers.
The pendulum of childrearing practices swings back and forth. Fads come and go quickly, leaving parents as well as professionals frustrated and confused But, as Sigmund Freud said, “The voice of the intellect is soft but persistent.” We must be persistent if we want to help parents and professionals see the difference between what is universal and what is a changing fad in childrearing, so that more infants may grow up into authentic children and adults. Although the “gourmet” and “superbaby” trainer make more noise, they will be long forgotten when the soft voice of reason will still be heard.
The above article is reprinted from the Pacific Oaks College Newsletter. If you are interested in more information about Ms. Gerber’s work, contact Resources for Infant Educarers, 1550 Murray Circle, Los Angeles, CA 90026 or call (212) 662-5330 or 663-9610.