The answer with babies is NO! Janet Lansbury explores this issue in her latest blog, and it is so powerful and almost counterintuitive to discussions I have with parents, that I think it is worth reproducing most of the article here.
Think of everyday conversations we have and how frustrated we get when people insist on interrupting. Human language has developed to mimic the rhythm of an intricate dance, whereby turn taking is essential. The best conversations are when each person is in the flow and is truly fully present, paying attention to details and really listening.
This responsiveness deepens connections and both parties feel honoured and enriched by the event. Almost exactly the opposite occurs when we speak with someone who constantly interrupts. We feel unheard, unseen and unvalued. There is disconnection and shallow relationship.
Similarly, when we are really in the flow doing something we value, writing a journal, listening to music or reading a good book, we get ruffled by the interruption of the phone ringing or the doorbell going. We are harshly ripped from a state of deep concentration.
What do we want for our children then?
Presumably deepened, enriched lives that let them know they are loved and lovable, through effective communication and respect for them being who they are, yet as Janet Lansbury points out “We don’t think twice about interrupting infants and toddlers, mostly because we don’t think to value what they are doing”.
Even though the psychological theories of babies as ‘blank slates’ has been discredited, there is still, I believe, a sense that babies are not intelligent, do not know their needs and that we adults have to carve out their lives for them. Modern research shows this is far from the truth. Yes we need to ensure the environment is safe, they are fed and cleaned but beyond that the baby really is fully equipped to navigate the world.
Lansbury points out that despite our willingness to interrupt, we later expect them to have great concentration skills, to be attentive in class and to learn ‘successfully’. This is a bit of a catch twenty two, if we routinely interrupt babies in their ‘work’, we reduce their capacity for full presence and their ability to function in societies that demand written examinations, excellence in the workplace etc.
I do not think it is a coincidence that much of my work is about retraining clients to be fully present, to focus on what is and to, in Dr Judson Brewer’s words, “get out of our own way”. He states in a TED talk, that “we are all awesome”. I truly believe the main role of parenting is to create the best environment to nurture our children’s awesomeness. However, if we have to focus on getting out of our own way and getting out of the way of our children (metaphorically) that’s a tall order.
Janet Lansbury highlights 7 tips for creating the space babies need to develop their own brains into awesomeness:
“1) Minimal entertainment and stimulation. Babies are creatures of habit and can become accustomed to expect entertainment rather than doing what comes naturally — occupying themselves with their surroundings. Constant stimulation leads to an exhausted parent and an easily bored, over-stimulated child. Infant expert Magda Gerber taught that babies do not naturally become bored. Parents do….
2) No TV or videos for the first two years. TV and videos are the most drastic way to undermine your child’s developing attention span because they engage and overwhelm a child’s attention rather than encouraging the child to actively flex his focus muscle.
3) A safe, cosy “YES” place. In order to remain occupied for extended periods of time, a baby must have a safe place. A too large area where there are unsafe objects available to a child is not the relaxed environment the baby needs for extensive concentration. Babies cannot play for long periods of time when they are distracted by the tension of parents worried about safety and the interruption of “NOs”.
4) Simple, open-ended toys and objects. Unless distracted, babies are inclined to examine every inch of a simple object, like the pattern on a cloth napkin, and then experiment. They are apt to tire of or become over-stimulated by objects that they either cannot comprehend …or toys that they passively watch, listen to, and have a single function: like musical mobiles or wind-up toys. Those toys grab the child’s attention rather than strengthening his ability to actively focus and investigate.
5) Observe. And don’t interrupt. Observing the way our babies choose to spend their time makes us realize that they are not just lying there, but actually doing something. That something might be gazing towards a window, at the ceiling fan, or grasping at dust particles in the sunlight. Every time we interrupt our baby’s musings we discourage his concentration.
6) Baby gets to choose….children are more interested in the things they choose than the things we choose for them. Therefore, allowing a baby to choose what to do in his play environment rather than directing him to our choice of activity …will better engage his interest, focus and heightened concentration.
7) Don’t encourage distraction. It is common practice to distract a baby with a toy on the changing table to “get the job done.” But this trains babies to NOT pay attention. Diaper changes, baths, and feedings are not dull, unpleasant chores for babies. Babies are interested in all aspects of their lives. They want to be included in each step of a task that involves them and be invited to participate as much as they are able. When we teach a baby that he should not pay attention to activities he’s an integral part of, how do we then expect him to develop a healthy attention span? ……
A long attention span is essential for creative, athletic and academic achievement. Attentive listeners make the best friends, spouses and parents.”
May I just interrupt you?