Today, I’m sharing an exchange from my mailbox:
I have been reading many of your articles on facebook, as well as following many of the RIE principles of parenting. We try to raise our son respectfully. We do not allow him to watch TV, and we have many open-ended toys. We recently started classes at Gymboree. (I wanted him to have the opportunity to interact with other children his age.) I find that the environment is overstimulating and my son often sits back and watches, rather than participates. I should also say that he has not started to walk on his own, and that all of the other children have. I see that most of the other parents push their children to try things and often “force” them onto a slide, etc. I have not done this, as I want him to explore the environment himself. I”m just getting nervous because he acts very different from the other kids and I wonder if I should be worried, or if I have just raised him differently than the others? My question is, do you know anything about these types of classes? Would you recommend I nudge him to try the activities there? I look forward to hearing your opinions.
Thank you for your note, and please forgive me for not responding sooner. With your permission, I’d like to reply to your question in a blog post, as yours is a question I receive frequently. I am very familiar with Gymboree classes, and generally find them to be overwhelming and overstimulating for most children under the age of four (and even for some adults!), but I do understand your desire to allow your son the opportunity to be around other children his own age. (I don’t know if you have a park nearby, but spending some time there on a daily basis can provide a wonderful chance for him to explore physically and interact with other children his age in a relaxed, informal way.)
I want to reassure you that you are doing well by your son by waiting patiently for him to be ready to try and accomplish things on his own, in his own time, and his own way.There is no need to “force” him to explore, as babies and toddlers always do exactly what they’re ready for. I know it can be hard not to question yourself when you see others doing things so differently. I want to encourage you to continue to listen to and respect your son’s pace, and to continue to follow your own instincts.
You don’t mention how old your son is, but there is a wide range of “normal” when it comes to achieving physical milestones. I would not nudge him at all, but allow him to enjoy the class completely on his own terms; to explore and interact as he wants to and is ready to. My guess is that he is following his own unique inner pace and dictates, not because something is wrong, but because you have raised him in a respectful, accepting atmosphere that encourages, allows, supports, and celebrates his authentic being! (Of course, if you have concerns about a significant developmental delay, I encourage you to check with your pediatrician.)
I want to share with you a post Suchada of Mama Eve Natural Parenting wrote about an eye-opening experience she had with her young son at the playground , because it speaks so beautifully to your question. I hope these thoughts will help you to feel confident in allowing your son to take his time to find his own way up the slide when he’s ready! Suchada says in part:
“It was so hard to resist the temptation to help him…..
But if I had, I would have missed the opportunity to see what he could do. I would have missed an opportunity to let him discover his own capabilities. I would have missed an opportunity to show him I trust him to figure out the things that are important to him, in his life, in his moment.”
Please let me know how things are going. I’d love to hear from you again.
I appreciate your reply, and figured you were probably very busy, as it is a hectic time of year. I appreciate the added reassurance from you. My son is 14 months old. He is definitely not delayed, just more laid back; he seems to prefer to sit back and take in all the action. It just gets trying to see all the other parents parenting in a way that is so drastically different from my own. We do have a local park that we sometimes visit. I’ve been thinking of going a bit more often and discontinuing our Gymboree classes, as I feel they’re overstimulating and too structured. You certainly have my permission to respond to my email via blog post, or republish it in any way. I enjoy reading your blogs and facebook posts and find the information very informative and reassuring. Hope you have an enjoyable holiday season and a healthy, happy New Year to come!
I’m also wishing you a happy, healthy New Year, and continued joy in following your son’s lead and discovering who he is as he grows and learns! I’m wondering if you might be able to find one or two like minded Moms who have babies about the same age as your son, at the park, and then maybe you can you can get together every once in a while. It may help you to feel less alone, which is just as important as creating opportunities for your son to play and socialize at his own pace. Janet Lansbury offers five great tips for forming a safe and fun informal play group, when there aren’t any to be found nearby that feel comfortable for both you and your child. Finally, I leave you with this thought from Magda Gerber:
“It can be difficult to step back and let your child take the lead, but in this way you will observe and learn from him. You will discover with delight that your child has many inherent abilities that might have been missed if he had not been allowed to explore in his own way.”
As you seem to have discovered, there’s treasure to be found for both you and your son in sharing what Magda called “wants nothing” time together! Enjoy!