We Can Work It Out

An article about how to safely play with your infant.
Dad plays with baby
Have you heard these comments about your child's development?
“You don’t need to get involved, it will work itself out.”
“I didn’t do tummy-time with my baby and she ended up just fine.”
At every turn, new parents hear about dozens of things they can do to help their baby, from doing "tummy-time" or adopting a particular sleep method to choosing organic baby food, and much more. It can be a lot to digest and can make them anxious about whether they are doing all they can for their baby. But for every article about the risks and benefits of tummy-time or particular sleep methods, there is a support network of in-laws, friends, etc. reassuring us that whatever we are concerned about, it won't matter much in the long run because most babies will come out fine.
The thing is, they’re right. (Didn’t see that coming?!) Well, they’re right -- to a certain degree at least. Developmental psychologists use the term equifinality, to describe the way infants develop in multiple ways to reach similar end results of sitting, walking, etc. When you look at the big picture, the baby who has skipped crawling, and even some who skip rolling, or don’t have much tummy-time, will most likely walk, run, speak, read, write and go on to great things. Human development is absolutely amazing in its complexity – there are a number of ways that we can learn different skills.
In the big picture we have equifinality: a more or less equal end result. But, when we look in more detail, we see that there is also great variation in how we walk, run, stand, etc. These variations can mean the difference between someone who is athletic and someone who is plagued by back pain. Or between someone who “comes out just fine” with a joyful experience of learning new motor skills, or one who learns with great struggle and frustration.
Because our movement and our body-awareness are linked, a child with very limited movement-patterns may have other spatial orientation problems. Such problems may present, for example, as learning disabilities later in life. As a Feldenkrais practitioner, my daily work involves bringing those small differences in how we move into the awareness of my clients.
When someone tells you, “Don’t get involved, it will work itself out,” they are missing the fact that it just isn’t possible for you to not be involved! To quote the title of Alan Fogel’s influential book, infants and parents are “developing through relationships.” Development is strongly influenced by all parents. Whether we intend it or not, we are all “involved.” We all develop and grow in relation to those around us.
Once we understand that development is dependent on many factors, we can see that it doesn’t “just work itself out” because we influence the parameters of our child’s experience. For example, the child who sits in a car carrier for a good part of each day is going to develop differently (and probably with more limited movement) than if she had ample floor time with a caretaker each day.
If we accept that we are intimately involved in our children’s development, the issue becomes one of being involved with awareness. And maybe knowing that in the big picture they’re going to end up “just fine” can help us strive to do our best for our babies in a way that is not anxious, but joyful.
Dan Rindler, Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner & Child’Space Practitioner www.childspacenyc.com