“The relationship is all. It is a matter of life to the child” Emmi Pikler
So what is the Pikler approach and how does it fit with attachment parenting? Having trained in and shared the Pikler approach for over 8 years as a parent educator I’ve seen first-hand how the Pikler approach helps us put the principles of attachment parenting into practice to build authentic and deeply pleasurable relationship with our babies.
The Pikler approach adds something more, which is very neglected in our society. It highlights the crucial importance of letting our babies have time and space to develop their movement and play through their own non interfered with self-initiated play.
The Pikler approach comes from Budapest, Hungary. Dr Emmi Pikler was a paediatrician who found a way of supporting parents, and later carers of babies and young children with an approach to care which ensured the security and trust of good relationship and allowed children all the freedom they need to come up into standing and walking on their own. The approach is becoming widely adopted by parents and in care settings in Europe and beyond.
The two main principles of the Pikler approach are these;
- The importance of a kind and respectful relationship between an adult and infant, through tender care moments.
- The importance of naturally paced motor development, free movement and uninterrupted play.
These two principles are both crucial for the baby’s healthy development. And they form a polarity – the times of care are primarily the times to develop a rich and reciprocal relationship of bonding with your baby. This requires full presence and tender consciously-given care. The times for the baby to develop their motor skills is when the carer can step back a little and allow the baby time on their own (with you of course near by). Observing and responding to your child’s cues, sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious, means you’ll know when they are asking to be held and when they are happy not to be.
“If we give children enough space and possibilities for free movement, they will move as beautifully and gracefully as animals, nimbly, simply, confidently and naturally.” Emmi Pikler
The times of care are primarily the times of physical care – those times when we are changing the baby’s nappy, feeding them a meal, bathing them or putting them to sleep. Often these times, especially nappy changing are the times that are rushed. However, Pikler realised and embedded in her approach to child care that these are the times “par excellence” for getting to know your baby, talking to them, gaining their trust and their co-operation (even from a few months old) and enjoying a continuously deepening relationship.
For example there are several important guidelines that can be followed when you change your baby’s nappy.
- Slow down
- Give your full attention and presence to your child
- Carry out the care with the child and not to the child – encourage their co-operation even from birth
- Don’t do anything before you have told the child simply what you are going to do
- And wait for their response – and for their body to relax and respond to your request
- Engage the child in what is a co-operative venture rather than distracting them with toys
- Use gentle respectful touch and voice
- Allow time for your baby to express their interests and respond to them.
- Always give care in the same sequence so that the child feels secure in what is happening
Feeding and meal time are also special times for deepening your relationship with your baby. I know some health visitors suggest that breast feeding times are good times to catch up on your mobile phone, but these are special bonding times that should not be interfered with.
As the Pikler approach becomes better known in the UK there can be confusions and misunderstandings about how it may or may not compliment more established parenting practices like attachment parenting. In my experience, the Pikler approach helps parents to understand better what sensitive and conscious care of babies and infants looks like in practice. It also helps parents to see the needed balance between attention and relationship building (and perhaps if we are not careful –a growing dependency on being entertained) and the baby’s need for self-initiated movement and play.
This is true for toddlers too. We need to give them space and time, stand back while being present, so they can make their own discoveries and follow their own interests. Pikler play equipment like the triangle and platform with ramps are readily explored and climbed on by children – if we let them. They help very young children practice their motor skills and balance, all by themselves, in a safe environment.
“The inability to play independently inevitably increases the child’s sense of dependence on the adult. Conversely independent activity allows him to experience autonomy”. Eva Kallo and Gyorgi Balog.
Creating an environment in which the child recognises safety through your loving presence (but not exclusively in physical contact) allows the child crucial time for self-initiated movement, exploration and play. Knowing and honouring a baby’s, and later toddler’s, need for ‘own time’ ensures a rounded healthy development and surprisingly makes parenting much easier!