“I want to swing,” said 2-year-old Georgia to us at the playground. This was her first time asking to be carried into a swing and pushed. Unlike her older sister, who enjoyed being in a swing from the first time she tried one when she was a baby, and who would gladly swing for 30 minutes if no one else was waiting for a turn, Georgia would have nothing to do with a swing, until now.
When we’ve offered to help her onto swings in the past, she would turn us down. We would respect her wishes. “She’ll be ready for swings one day, in her own time,” is the lens that helped me let go of any expectations, and therefore unnecessary worry. In the meantime, it helped to observe that although she wasn’t keen on sitting in a swing, she was experiencing swinging In other ways - holding on to bars or rings and swinging her body forward and back, resting her torso on the seat of a swing and lifting up her legs so she would swing gently, asking to be held under her armpits and swung up high and down again. She has, in her own ways, been expanding her tolerance for vestibular stimulation.
Perhaps then it shouldn’t have surprised us so when she asked for the first time that day, to be lifted into a swing, and requested her papa to push her. Swinging next to me and her sister, she laughed with pure pleasure as our bodies oscillated back and forth, at our own rhythms.
Serendipitously, a colleague of mine recently shared these words by Magda Gerber on readiness: ‘
If infants are ready to do something, they will do it.
In fact, when they are ready, they have to do it.
When I visit centres or families, I often feel sad or frustrated because the children, to my mind, are doing beautiful things; the adults, however, say, “But why don’t they do something?” - and “something” is always something the children cannot do. When we give the child the message, “If only you would…” Or “If only you wouldn’t…” that child does not feel okay.
Try to feel that you are that infant: you feel you have to perform, you have to do, you have to create something. If you are lying peacefully on your back, then you should be sitting up. Even if you cannot sit up, you should. You feel that all the important people in your life expect something of you that you cannot deliver.’
Reading Magda’s words, the word that comes to my mind is ‘ease’. How much easier it is for both the parent and the child when, instead of wanting children to do what they are not yet ready to do, we see that they are already always doing what they are ready for, ‘at the perfect time’, in Magda’s words. Georgia is not ‘late’ or ‘slow’ at swinging in a swing set; she is ready now to sit in a swing having explored with swinging in other ways, and now is the perfect time for her.
Our society values faster and earlier, but as a parent and a RIE advocate, I’m learning that more important than when is how children do what they do. That Georgia’s first experience with sitting in a swing happened in a calm and regulated state, and that the decision to swing was selfchosen means she gets to associate swinging with pleasure, confidence and autonomy. These repeated experiences of learning and doing at her own time, contribute to the development of her positive self-image. I have observed this self-regard the first time she stood without support, put her face underwater at the pool, walk barefoot on grass, pour herself a glass of coconut water from a carton…It is a look on her face, and the way she carries herself that says, “I can.”
Our children will learn many things in their lifetime, and hopefully they are often guided by the trust in themselves that they can.
Li Ling Phua is a RIE® Practicum student now living back in Singapore. She completer her RIE® Foundations™ in 2017 with Sharon Smith