Being a father has been the most interesting adventure in my life (almost a year!). I have observed not only the step-by-step making of a human being, but also my own development as I take on a new role in my life, a role I’ve partially lived with other children, but now can live full-time!
One thing I think a lot of us don’t realise is how sensitive and precise babies are as they develop. We think of them as a “uncivilised” and in need of education – which I don’t entirely disagree with, they need help “navigating” this complex social world – but a large part of how they are reflects how they are treated. If we treat them roughly, they will reflect that back into the world; if we treat them with gentleness and respect, more often than not, that is how they will approach the world.
Observing my daughter, I’ve learnt just how precise she can be at times and how delicate she can be with various objects. She can be a little rough with the cats, and we don’t let her handle some objects in case she breaks them or hurts herself, but she isn’t reckless or clumsy. When she is being “destructive” it can be almost scientific, experimental. She is actively making observations about how she can affect the world around her. The point is, this isn’t something she does all the time, she can be really selective and careful.
If we do not allow them the time or space to experience things on their own terms, it goes directly into the unconscious, and from there they have no choice but to accept it. We expose them to things that overwhelm them, cause them stress or otherwise harm them, and they have to learn to accept it. It is “normal” even if it shouldn’t be, even if they should be allowed to reject it.
On the other hand, if we let them have the space to observe the world on their own terms and let them interact with the world in way they can understand consciously, each action then becomes careful and deliberate. They learn not to react to the world but act within it as conscious agents, carefully choosing what they want to do with a myriad of options.
It’s a lie that babies “don’t notice anything” – they notice everything; it all gets recorded in their implicit memory, influencing how their brain develops and forming the bedrock of their personality. The trick is that if we treat babies well early on, it will become the foundation for their own approach to the world. But if we are not so careful with them, we are creating problems for ourselves later on and the “terrible twos” can unnecessarily be terrible and possibly beyond!