When my son was young, he often requested that I read to him “Horton hears a Who!” by Dr. Seuss. I was happily surprised to see how my son ‘s literature reflected my own beliefs about respect toward others. In this book, Horton the Elephant represents kindness as he responds to a cry for help from a tiny particle of what he perceived to be dust. Throughout the story, Horton remains true to what his heart is telling him, and despite the tremendous difference in size, he goes beyond the call of duty to protect this tiny speck. After being ridiculed and criticized by his fellow animals, he is able to prove that indeed there was life inside this mote, an entire civilization, that if it weren’t for his active involvement would have perished. When I asked my son what message he had received from this story, he answered by quoting the main line that is repeated throughout: “A person is a person no matter how small!”
I received the exact message 16 years ago when I learned about a particular approach towards caring for babies. Dr. Emmi Pikler, Hungarian pediatrician in the thirties, dedicated her life to ensure that young children were always cared for with respect. The basic message: to slow down and be present to the child.
Dr. Pikler spent six decades offering adults an opportunity to experience her particular approach toward caring for young children. She worked with parents and caregivers on how to be respectful with the young, considering each child as a unique individual from the first minute of life. Her observations led her to believe that a newborn could quickly turn into an object in the hands of an adult, if the adult caring for him was not attentive to his inner needs. An infant requires much attention. An infant needs to be fed, bathed, and has many diapers to be changed throughout the day. This constant routine can easily turn monotonous and lose its newness.
Every interaction between an adult and an infant may be crucial for the development of a child’s personality. It is up to us to decide what kind of world we want to create for our children by modeling with our behavior. We can choose to be present, to be attentive, to be respectfully caring. We can choose to be like Horton, or Dr. Pikler and show, even the smallest, that we are responsive to
Elsa Chahin, RIE® Associate, Pikler® Trainer and President of Pikler/Loczy Fund