Learning the Nurture Story off by Heart
The Nurture Story is a creation story. Each new baby is 'creation made flesh', and the nurturing each baby receives in those first three to four years of life continues the miracle of creation - or not. It is time for us to face up to the picture extensive research paints for us around nurturing: lack of the right nurture at the right time results in a neurologically, psychologically, 'twisted creation'. Harsh I know, but unfortunately true*.
* See Joseph Chilton Pearce, Bruce Perry, James W Prescott, Gabor Mate, Robin Grille, Anne Manne, Sue Gerhardt, Steve Biddulph...
Does she know?
Does she know
her baby reads the touch
of her hands,
the tone of her voice,
the look in her eye
to learn who he is?
Does she know
her baby learns how to do love by the care that she takes
and the trust that she makes when she answers his call?
Dance with Me in the Heart offers you more reading about respectful care with babies and young children.
Before we refresh ourselves with details of the Nurture Story here are a few questions to get started:
The co-creation of nurture
All babies come into this world expecting one thing: they come expecting partnership. At birth their little systems have grown and developed sufficiently to survive outside the womb without medical assistance, but they have not grown and developed enough to survive and thrive in the big wide world without that co-creative partnership of mother-child continuing. At birth babies expect a continuation of the partnership that was firmly established in the womb. They expect it with every cell of their tiny bodies.
What nature expects and what nature gets might not be the same thing
Fewer and fewer babies experience a reciprocal partnership that is characterised by empathy, warmth, closeness and pleasure. These pleasurable factors of nurturing are essential if the child is to develop a neurointegrative brain. More and more babies experience an environment so painful and alien to their needs they grow, instead, a neurodissociative brain. This is very, very serious.
When culture disregards the needs of children and their parents
Speaking biologically, it is the mother's 'co-creation of nurture' that grows the baby in the womb. And it is Mum's partnering that continues to act as the 'trainer wheels of nurture' after the birth until the baby's systems are up and running, ready for self-regulation. That's a minimum of three years, but four is better. Our culture is not set up to support young children or their families during this critical time of the child's development and unfolding. Furthermore, the culture is moving further and further away from what the baby is expecting, even if individual families are listening to their baby's needs before cultural dictates.
Parents know what happens when they take trainer wheels off the bike before a child can balance independently: Splat! What parents don't know is that when you take the trainer wheels of nurture off too early there is a bigger 'splat', one you can't put a plaster on and kiss better, one with life-long consequences for the child, and for society.
Which comes first - learning or love?
But it is not only parents who haven't learned The Nurture Story. Most trained early childhood teachers don't understand the critical part that 'trainer wheels of nurture' play in a child's development either. If they did, every early childhood centre in the country would be set up with primary care for every child, right up to school age. You and I are well beyond school-starting-age, yet unless we have chosen a life of solitude, we still choose to have a trusted friend with us for company - not some stranger or person with whom we have no empathetic connection.
A model of the Nurture Story
So when it cannot be the nurturing Mum who partners the child for whatever reason (and it needs to be a pretty good reason - like starvation - not 'children need socialisation' - but that's another story), 'substitute trainer wheels of nurture' must be employed, or splat! Dr Emmi Pikler has a lot to teach us about 'substitute trainer wheels' in early childhood. She pioneered a whole new level of respectful care, with families in their homes, and in the famed Loczy orphanage. She demonstrated to the world simple yet profound ways in which to partner babies and young children, even children with post traumatic stress disorder. Children partnered according to her 'approach' grow in ways that allow them to balance, grow and thrive to the point where they can regulate their own systems. These lucky babies develop a neurointegrative brain.
And if it cannot be Mum?
So children in care need a substitute Mum: one person to bond with, one person to feel safe with, to feel loved by, to feel known by. One person who will understand them - for better or worse - and who will advocate for them come what may. With support like that, the baby/child can make empathetic relationships with the others in her childcare environment, in her own good time, from the stability and safety of 'the substitute trainer wheels of nurture'. That's just the way it works in a family: from the stability and safety of Mum, the baby makes relationships with the others in the family and extended family.
Show me a story, don't tell me
Children are not in childcare by choice, no matter what kind of stories we tell ourselves so we'll feel better about putting them there. But whether children are at home or in care - the most important story they want to hear, to feel, and to have over and over again is The Nurture Story. If you and I can learn the Nurture Story off by heart, and if we can do it over and over and again, we know enough now to predict with confidence that this story will have a happy ending.
Pennie Brownlee • January 2013