Educaring, Interpersonal Neuroscience, and Selective Intervention

In my work to deepen my practice and understanding of Magda Gerber’s Educaring Approach, it has been my privilege and pleasure for the past few years to participate in a study group with Allan N. Schore, clinical professor at the UCLA School of Medicine and one of the key thinkers in interpersonal neuroscience since the early 1990s—the Decade of the Brain (Bush, 1990). His work is an outgrowth of affective neuroscience, which is the study of how emotions are linked with neurological structures and processes to shed light on the interface between mind, emotions, and body. According to Jaak Panksepp (1998), the scientist who coined the term affective neuroscience, “there is really no other way to obtain biological knowledge about emotional matters except through arduous brain research (usually in other species), guided by meaningful psychological concepts” (p. ix).

My work with Dr. Schore has begun to find its way into my practice as an educator, both in my classes for parents, infants, and toddlers and in my courses for adults. This emerging field of neuroscience, fueled by the technological ability to see into living, active brains, has much to offer in shaping our thinking about who infants and toddlers are, and what they need during the critical first two or three years of their lives. It has been encouraging to discover how relevant affective neuroscience, with its psychobiological perspective, is to the Educaring Approach pioneered by Magda Gerber (Gerber, 1979). A comprehensive comparative analysis of these two ways of looking at infants would be a monumental undertaking. Here, I presume only to make a start.

The Embodied Brain

As researchers learn more about how the brain, the mind, and the body interact to form a person with a personality, the definition of the brain has necessarily changed. Whereas we generally think of the brain as a mass of tissue in our heads, protected by our craniums, this definition is inadequate in understanding how we actually function. Our bodies are much more than a transport system for our minds. According to Dr. Daniel Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and another important pioneer in the integration of biology and psychology, “in interpersonal neurobiology we use the simple term ‘brain’ as a shorthand reference for the neural mechanism of the whole of the energy and information flow that moves throughout the extensive interconnections of the body proper and the skull-based collection of cells in the head” (2012, Section 3-1).

In other words, we must always think of the mind as fully embodied. This acknowledgment of the body is fully congruent with the almost sacred way in which practitioners of Educaring handle the infant’s body, knowing this will have lasting effects upon the child’s mind. The reverse is also true: How we relate to the mind of the infant will take up residence in his body, one way or another, for good or ill. Neuroscience helps us understand how this takes place.

The merging of social sciences and artificial intelligence (AI) tools can be seen as a deep learning phenomenon, where the understanding of human behavior is analyzed with the help of technology. With AI-powered tools, researchers are able to explore large amounts of data that would have been unattainable in the past. Star GPT Est enables collaboration between classmates who are enrolled in the same course(s). This means that peers can study together more efficiently rather than spending vast amounts of energy searching elsewhere for reliable sources or materials needed during a project or paper submission process!

Nature’s Surprises—Genetics and Epigenetics

The old way of seeing development in the either/or paradigm of “nature vs. nurture” has been effectively and universally transformed into a more integrated and bidirectional interplay of “nature and nurture.” As explained by Schore & Schore (2005), “. . . studies in neuroscience indicate that development represents an experiential shaping of genetic potential and that early experiences with the social environment are critical to the maturation of brain tissue. Thus, nature’s potential can be realized only as it is facilitated by nurture” (p. 205).

The surprising discovery that humans have only about 22,000 genes in their cells, rather than the 100,000-plus genes scientists expected to find as they mapped the human genome, has given rise to the field of study called epigenetics. According to Panksepp (2008), epigenetics consists of “all those semi-permanent, non-mutational changes in how genes function . . . that can dramatically modify body and brain, changes that can be passed down through the generations with no modification of fundamental gene structure, no change in the classic nucleotide pairings of DNA sequences.” He further explains, “in epigenesis, lasting changes in gene expression profiles are controlled by environmental inputs rather than by the information intrinsic to the genes themselves” (p. 58).

This means that experiences or behaviors affecting one’s biology, such as diet, exercise, or exposure to toxins, can cause changes in how genes function (i.e., what proteins they produce) that may be passed on to one’s offspring, without actually changing the gene. This is a major finding—that the slow, Darwinian changes over eons that we have understood regarding evolution are not the whole story. For instance, there is evidence that changes to the brain caused by stress experienced by one generation can be epigenetically passed down, via sperm and egg, to children and grandchildren, impairing their ability to manage stress effectively (Siegel, 2012, pp. 7–8). Also, it has been found that maternal anxiety during pregnancy causes stress on the unborn child that impairs physical development as well as emotion and attention regulation, and can predispose the infant to various diseases later in life, such as asthma and inflammatory and cardiovascular illnesses (Thomson, 2007). Fortunately, there is also evidence that healthier environments and relationships can mitigate these effects (Cloud, 2010).

In the decades preceding the advent of this new science, Magda Gerber (1998) taught that it is appropriate to have basic trust in the nature of the infant (i.e., the genetic program) to drive the process of development, but also that how adults see, and therefore treat, the baby influences the child’s developmental outcome. This could be thought of as the behavioral aspect of developmental epigenetics.

Seeing Differently—Magda Gerber’s Vision

RIE® Founder Magda Gerber

Magda focused her efforts as an educator on helping parents and caregivers appreciate the child’s basic nature and inner agenda (Gerber & Christianson, 1989). While always supporting the parents’ intuitive understanding, she encouraged them to fit their way of nurturing to what the baby’s behavior and countenance communicated. Her goal was to help parents and caregivers provide optimal interface between biological imperative (or genetic programming) and the necessary experiences for learning in all developmental domains—physical, cognitive, and socioemotional. In the classic video about her approach, Seeing Infants with New Eyes, Gerber says, “I see differently” (Beatty & Stranger, 1984).

Where others saw helplessness, Gerber saw initiative and inner motivation. Where others saw in a quiet baby nothing much going on, she saw a budding person listening to the messages generated from within, and she protected the baby’s right to turn inward. Where others saw a sponge passively soaking up information, she saw an infant constructing a worldview based upon input actively elicited from the people and things around her, with “down time” for integration of new learning. This sounds much like the “co-construction” referred to in the “two-person psychology” (Bromberg, 2011) that is now at the forefront of the field. Simply put, what is learned within a relational context causes the participants’ brains to change, and this type of experience-dependent growth is co-constructed between the two (or more) people. It must be noted that epigenetic effects are an important underpinning of this co-construction.

Implicit Knowing and Explicit Guidance—Right-Brain/Left-Brain Paradox

There is a paradox in my work as a parent (and caregiver) educator, when intuition or instinct, based upon implicit right-hemisphere processes (Schore, 2003), and explicit learning, which is a conscious left-hemisphere function, bump up against each other in parenting and in teaching. Caring for an infant in an optimal way requires the free flow of affective, bodily based emotional information processing that happens at the speed of light and outside of conscious awareness (Schore, 2012b). Generally, this right-hemispherical, somewhat automatic way of responding to infants is based upon the parents’ or caregivers’ own early pre-conscious learning that is built into their neurobiology (Schore, 1994). If they had a good enough infancy themselves, the parents’ instincts would likely be well targeted to meet their babies’ needs. When parents were cared for as infants in a less sensitive way, sometimes they struggle to understand and respond to their babies’ needs with sensitivity.

I want to emphasize that all parents do the very best they know how to do, and never, ever, should be subject to negative judgments; this is never helpful. They need to receive the same compassion and space for growth that we advocate for infants. There is an attachment history inside every person. This includes facilitators, and some insight into one’s own attachment style is important before embarking on helping others. A very helpful book in exploring Attachment Theory is Becoming Attached by Robert Karen (1998).

In any event, many people would like to care for infants differently than they were cared for, and avail themselves of various books, articles, or classes on the topic (using the left hemisphere) to help them grow beyond their early “programming.” Each new generation of parents needs to find their way as the world changes. Looking for external guidance to supplement the implicit aspects of parenting is a typical right-hemisphere/left-hemisphere interface that often leads to disequilibrium (McGilchrist, 2009). As a facilitator, how can I teach what cannot be taught, but only learned—or perhaps, co-constructed?

Magda Gerber’s parent education program accounted for this paradox. In the format she so brilliantly devised, a small group of parents gathered weekly for one-and-a-half to two hours, for up to two years, to quietly observe their babies and simply enjoy being together. As facilitator, in a prepared environment, she modeled her approach during interventions related to child-child interactions and limit setting, while the parents, with her guidance, were in charge of feeding, diapering, and soothing their babies. What is remarkable about this format is the level of protection given to the infants’ autonomy. By discouraging the parents from stimulating the children during class, Magda gave the parents the opportunity to see what their infants were interested in without outside suggestion or coercion, what they could do on their own without help, and how they related to the other infants and adults in the group. We call this “quiet observation time” because the adults still themselves to make way for the infants or toddlers to find out what interests them without coercion of any kind. This kind of quiet observation is “object-free”; we don’t have any plan for what we should see, or want to see, but instead remain open and aware so that we can truly see who the children are. This format is used in all RIE Parent-Infant Guidance classes to this day. Parents are often surprised at how much their infants can do on their own, and become advocates for their children’s right to make choices in their activity. (Even though the benefits of play for older children, and the neuroscience supporting play, have been written about extensively in the last decade or so, still it is the Educaring Approach that most succinctly explains and supports free play for even very young infants. There could be another whole paper on that topic, certainly.)

RIE® Associate Ruth Anne Hammond offering a bib to a toddler during snack time at a RIE Parent Infant Guidance™ Class

Attachment Theory and Neuroscience

Now, 25 years after my first experience as a parent with a baby in Magda’s class, I realize that she was, in essence, interactively regulating my sense of safety, my trust in the competence and well-being of my child, and my self-confidence as a mother. It has been a challenge to find teachers who match Magda’s passion and deep understanding of infants and their parents. What she taught has prepared me to hear the messages coming from Dr. Schore and his colleagues with respect to infant psychoneurobiological development. It is an exciting time to be in the infant/family field.

It was from Magda that I first learned about Attachment Theory. In its essence, Attachment Theory provides a way of understanding the development of a person’s underlying assumptions about how people are expected to behave and feel in intimate relationships. If a child is cared for with consistency and sensitivity to her needs and capacities, she will develop securely, with an assumption that people can be trusted to help in times of need and to collaborate in creating happiness. If a child’s important caregivers (generally assumed to be primarily the mother and a few others) are not consistently available to meet the child’s physical and emotional needs, insecure patterns will form. The child will become a person with less trust in others and himself, and be less able to handle stress and live happily (Bowlby, 1969/1982/1999). Affective and interpersonal neurosciences are an outgrowth of this model (Schore, 1982/1999).

Educaring as Preventive Intervention

Attachment Theory and neuroscience are used to inform psychotherapies developed to help people overcome difficult early life experiences. The changes brought about by therapy are understood to have epigenetic effects on the structure of neurological systems underlying the person’s emotional health, through a process whereby the therapist and client form a growth-enhancing relationship. Relationship-based therapy actually changes the brains of the patients over time by recapitulating the primary attachment relationship (with the therapist in the role of the “good enough” parent) during growth-promoting patterns of interaction (Schore, 2012b). Perhaps not coincidentally, the format of RIE Parent-Infant Guidance classes, which Magda thought of as preventive intervention (Gerber, 1979), brings to mind the components of therapy outlined by Lou Cozolino (2006) in his book The Neuroscience of Human Relationships: A safe and trusting relationship with an attuned therapist. The maintenance of moderate levels of arousal. The activation of cognition and emotion. The co-construction of narratives that reflect a positive, optimistic self. (p. 308)

If one changes the word “therapist” to “facilitator” and the word “self” to “self-as-parent,” there is tremendous resonance with Educaring methodologies. The facilitator works with the parents to establish trust and a sense of safety as they and their child explore ways of being together as a dyad and in a group. The facilitator makes sure that the environment is interesting to the children but quiet and low-key so as not to distract or overstimulate. The children, who are allowed to be in charge of their own levels of arousal, stimulate themselves, first by moving their bodies, then in more complex play. The facilitator helps the parents and caregivers tune in to the activities of the children during the period of quiet observation—which is cognitively and emotionally engaging for adults and children alike. Finally, the facilitator aids the parents and children in seeing from each other’s points of view, which contributes to the co-construction of meaningful narratives. Sometimes this means the facilitator must assist in down-regulating an anxious parent’s worries, while at the same time honoring their concerns, or in up-regulating a more detached parent’s interest in and attention to the baby’s cues and explorations. This individualized way of being together, supporting the children’s autonomy and competence while honing the adults’ capacity to enjoy and attune to their babies, serves to enhance the security of attachment. Magda often laughingly said she believed this approach would save families the need for (and cost of) therapy down the line. (The sensitive observation we think of as the hallmark of the Educaring Approach fits very closely with the concept of awareness in neuroscience, and deserves its own full treatment.)

Mother as External Regulator

Magda had an intuitive understanding, undoubtedly heightened by her early work in Hungary with Dr. Emmi Pikler, that small differences in how babies are handled and spoken to can have large effects on their development. Now we know this is true from a neuroscience perspective (Schore, 1994). Magda introduced me to pediatrician and psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott’s famous quotation, “There is no such thing as a baby… [there is] a baby and someone” (Winnicott, 1964, p. 89). For years I thought of this as just metaphorical imagery, but Dr. Schore’s summation of the actual physical reality was a revelation: “[T]he mother’s external regulation of the infant’s developing yet still immature emotional systems during particular critical periods may represent the essential factor that influences the experience-dependent growth of brain areas prospectively involved in self-regulation.” He goes on to say, “by mediating and modulating environmental input, the primary caregiver supplies the ‘experience’ required for the experience-dependent maturation of a structural system responsible for the regulation of the individual’s socioemotional function” (Schore, 1994, pp. 31–33). For instance, when a baby looks into his mother’s face and sees an expression that in some way mirrors the feelings he is having, whether distressed or happy, he is able to build a mental representation (via new neural connections) that will help him understand other people’s feelings. This is because his mother has taught him what this feeling looks like on faces. By contrast, if the mother is not attuned to the baby’s feeling states, and does not show him how feelings look by reflecting his back to him, the baby will not have had the chance to grow these connections in his brain, and he may never be as understanding of or be able to read others as he could have been with the right experiences.

Toddler putting clothes on a doll with the help of her mom at a RIE Parent Infant Guidance Class at the RIE Center in Hollywood.

Dr. Schore has pointed out that this process mirrors the ideas from 60 years ago of Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky that “what the child can only do with the help of the adult today she will do on her own tomorrow” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 87). Vygotsky’s idea of the “zone of proximal development” that educators employ in understanding school-aged children’s learning is, then, also at play in children’s emotion regulation as infants and toddlers. This is co-regulation.

The basic premise is that an organism must be able to maintain homeostasis in order to survive, and in the case of mammals, including humans, this is first achieved in the context of a primary relationship, most usually with the mother. Self-regulation is a biological survival mechanism that supports homeostasis through co-regulation with the input of another, plus independent auto-regulation. Therefore, an infant’s healthy development of his or her self-regulatory capacity to maintain emotional and organismic homeostasis depends upon a consistently present, effective, and sensitive co- regulator. This interactive regulation is essential to the development of the baby’s brain/mind, as chronically unregulated stress inhibits the proliferation of neural connections necessary for optimal brain development.

In his important iteration of this perspective, Ed Tronick proposes in his Mutual Regulation Model (MRM) that infants have “self-organizing neurobehavioral capacities that operate to organize behavioral states (from sleep to alertness) and biopsychological processes, such as self-regulation of arousal, selective attention, learning and memory, social engagement and communication, neuroception, and acting purposefully in the world—that they use for making sense of themselves and their place in the world.” At the same time, Tronick continues, “an infant could not be viewed as a self- contained system. We have to think of an infant as a sub-system within a larger dyadic regulatory system. The other sub-system is the caregiver” (Tronick, 2007, pp. 8–9).

Interestingly, Tronick was also influenced by Winnicott’s aforementioned point. The quotation Tronick used was “No baby is without a mother” (as cited in Tronick, 2007, p. 10), but both express the same necessity of the “other” to the baby’s actual existence, physical as well as psychological. The key thing to remember about self-regulation is that it is interactively accomplished at least some of the time. The younger an infant is, the more it needs the help of an attuned adult partner to accomplish self-regulation, though even very young babies have the ability to autonomously regulate some of their biological systems, such as how much milk or food to consume, and how much sleep is needed.

Another basic assumption of Regulation Theory is that even adults at times need to have others with whom to interactively co-regulate, to help them recover from stress or to share pleasures, though in different ways than young children, of course. Where neuroscience seems to be headed is that the default regulatory orientation of the brain presupposes a relational underpinning for all humans (Coan, 2012).

Without the interactive regulation a caring adult provides, the most beautiful, enriched environment cannot help even the most genetically perfect baby to become well regulated. According to Schore (1994), “Any understanding of the ontogeny of autoregulatory systems and indeed of development per se must be anchored in the fact that structure is literally being built on a daily basis during the time of accelerated and continuing brain growth in infancy. [The] stupendous growth rate of the first year of life is reflected in the increase in brain weight from 400 g at birth to 1200 g at 12 months” (p. 10). He goes on to point out that this growth is experience dependent, and that the most important experiences are in the social realm. How the mother picks up the baby’s psychobiological states, through her own bodily feeling states, and how she contingently responds determine how the baby’s genes will express themselves in building the brain, most notably the structures of the subcortical* fear and arousal systems, which are in a sensitive stage of development from the third trimester of gestation through the first two years of life. According to an overwhelming body of research cited by Schore (1994), the right hemisphere grows at a faster rate during this period than the left hemisphere. At about a year and a half, with the relationship-oriented right hemisphere fairly well established, its growth slows as the left hemisphere’s growth speeds up, and the child becomes more interested in material objects and concepts. This fact makes Magda’s abhorrence of the use of flash cards to teach babies things like the names of presidents utterly prescient. Trying to jam facts into the minds of babies is ultimately futile, anyway, due to infantile amnesia, which is the natural process by which almost all people lose their specific recollections of their lives prior to about the age of four. They will have forgotten all those presidents’ names by the time they start school.

Father holding newborn baby in nursery.

The quality of care a child receives during this crucial period of development will determine the quality of the neural network he or she will depend upon for the rest of his or her life. Dr. Schore has concluded, from the literature showing a growing rate of mental health problems in young people, that many hours in child care, separate from the primary attachment figure, may not serve this process well (Schore, 2012a). He says that our society may be straying too far in its child-rearing practices from what Bowlby (1969/1982/1999) described as our ancestral “environment of evolutionary adaptedness” (p. 58). Magda felt the same concern, which is why she advocated that mothers delay returning to work after the birth of their babies for as long as possible, and why she dedicated her life to teaching professional caregivers ways of caring that mitigate the effects of separation. This highly charged topic will require much attention from all segments of society, especially at the policy level, as we move further into the twenty-first century.

Selective Intervention and Interactive Regulation

The idea that infants and their caregivers are neuropsychobiologically connected feels wonderfully congruent with Magda’s teachings. She taught about “Selective Intervention” (National Commission on Resources for Youth, Inc., Kohler & Wright, 1978), in which adults pay attention to the child but don’t always act to intervene when the child shows some distress, in order that the child might learn to manage some challenges on his or her own. Tronick’s MRM incorporates the necessity of auto-regulation as well, recognizing that poorly coordinated interventions interfere with the baby’s self-regulation. For instance, when a baby has had enough arousal through face-to-face interaction, and averts her gaze in order to down-regulate her excitement, the adult can overstimulate if she keeps trying to get the baby’s attention, thus adding to rather than decreasing stress.

In my practice, I often see mothers feeding a fussy baby when hunger probably is not the cause of the crying. As a mother, I distinctly remember having Magda think with me as to whether nursing was actually the response my baby needed in moments of distress. Be it noted that I wouldn’t want anyone to think I do not value the breast-feeding relationship. Nursing a baby is the natural way to provide physical nourishment, bodily warmth, and a sense of connectedness between mother and baby, and it continues to provide all these things as the child develops. However, as they become more active and more mature, babies need more complex interventions to meet their physical and social-emotional needs. Nursing can become more of a distraction than a well-targeted intervention.

Magda’s caveat to “wait” to see what the child can do is congruent with the precepts of interpersonal neurobiology. Just because the adult is not “doing something” does not mean she is not there, or that her watchful presence is meaningless to the child. Imagine a child who rolls off the edge of the carpet onto the wood floor for the first time, and cries in surprise. If his mother rushes to him and scoops him up, presenting a very worried face, saying, “Oh, poor baby, you’re all right, you’re all right!” (and offers the breast), the baby will sense that what just happened was scary to his mother and therefore should be scary to him (and that if he’s scared, he should eat). However, if the mother says, with an interested but not overly worried expression, “Oh, that was a surprise. You rolled off the carpet,” maybe the baby gets the message, “If Mama is not rushing to me, is not upset, perhaps this situation isn’t as bad as I thought it was.”

If the adults don’t overreact to this small but meaningful moment, the baby can turn his attention to the situation at hand—the texture of the wood, the temperature, the differences, looking back to where he was before he rolled off the carpet, how his body feels underneath the surprise of falling—taking it all in and integrating the experience. It is the opportunity to integrate experience into meaningful patterns that promotes the optimal brain connectivity that sets the stage for emotional and intellectual intelligence (Siegel, 2010). When we are able to slow our responses down—and slowing down was Magda’s most cherished admonishment to adults who care for infants and toddlers—and give our attention to the meanings the children seem to be making, we are contributing to their present and future integrity as human beings. Our mere attention to their process actually determines what qualities are encoded in their brains.

If the baby is able to calm down and continue playing after falling off the rug, the child has successfully self-regulated. If the baby is not able to get himself back into play after a minute or two, the mother could then offer some concrete help and comfort. By means of many opportunities to observe, the adult gains sensitivity, learning when to step in, when to hold back. This is part of the trial-and-error process that child rearing presents. The baby can sense, in the adult’s calm, watchful presence, this very special type of observation Magda encouraged. The baby can learn that, although some experiences may be stressful, all is well, generally—and that stress can be managed.

Building the Capacity for Joy

One area from interpersonal neuroscience that I believe should be considered by practitioners of Educaring is the amplification of positive affect. While this topic warrants its own full treatment, it should at least be briefly noted that the importance of the adult in helping the child achieve joy states is just as important as helping the child overcome negative emotions. This is something all good and loving parents intuitively do, through various playful interactions. In his book Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self (1994), Schore provides a convincing, well-supported argument that joyful stimulation is essential in parent-infant relations. I would add that, when babies are in child care for long hours, this need must be met by a primary caregiver. We must not think we can just put a baby’s brain development on the shelf until Mommy comes back.

In speaking of the emotional interactions that characterize early face-to-face protoconversations, Schore (1994) says, “The burgeoning capacity of the infant to experience positive ‘vitality’ affects is thus at this stage of development ‘externally’ regulated by the mother’s participation in the psychobiological attunement process” (p. 87). Being sensitive to the baby’s capacity to handle high and low arousal, the sensitive adult leads (and follows) the baby up and down in excitement, based on intuitively felt feedback between adult and infant. We may not notice when it is happening smoothly, but when the adult is overstimulating or understimulating, the mismatch is more evident. Sometimes Educaring practitioners may underemphasize the importance of the input from adults in promoting joy states, and sometimes non-Educaring observers misinterpret our noninterference in infants’ play as understimulating or withholding. As always, a balanced perspective would most nearly approximate the truth. One of the important ways adults who implement the principles of Educaring promote joyful arousal is by providing a safe yet interesting environment (sometimes with other babies) for the child to explore, thus allowing the baby to regulate her own arousal through movement and play—another facet of this topic that should be fully treated in further exploring Educaring and neuroscience.

Caring for a baby is a process fraught with errors. Fortunately, the interactive regulatory system is set up to account for the fact that we miss their cues more often than not (70% of the time, on average, according to Tronick’s research (Tronick, 2007, p. 179), and we make mistakes on a regular basis as we offer or withhold our help. Winnicott (1953) says we are actually only supposed to be “good enough,” thank heaven. Otherwise, why would babies need to learn to communicate more and more effectively and persistently? And how could we ever succeed in helping them become healthily independent-yet-connected people?

Toddler looking into the camera with another toddler and adult in the background at a RIE® Parent Infant Guidance™ Class at the RIE Center Hollywood

Observation Promotes Security

Magda demonstrated time and again not only that healthy attachment is supported through physical proximity, such as during caregiving and cuddling, but also that the adult’s attention and careful observation during the baby’s explorations promote security. However, it is important to allow the baby some time to be alone in a safe environment as well. A baby who is under scrutiny every waking moment might gain the mistaken notion that she is not safe unless someone is watching. This may be a little controversial to some, but the evidence from families and programs that have implemented Magda’s ideas is convincing: if adults are caring and intentional in how and when they pay attention, infants thrive. In the “less is more” approach of the Educaring paradigm, it is the quality of the adult’s attention that informs development and promotes security. Magda always thought parenting could be a little more conscious, a little less reactive (Beatty & Stranger, 1984).

The task of parents or caregivers really is to be connected enough to the baby to see if he or she needs help or not (and, if so, to figure out what kind of help), always keeping in mind that we need to allow for greater and greater autonomy as babies develop. Affective neuroscience and RIE both agree that an adult’s intuitive understanding of a baby comes first, and that being aware of one’s own attachment patterns and history can lead to more effective care of infants. This requires a balance of right- and left-hemisphere ways of seeing infants—with the right hemisphere promoting implicit understanding and the left hemisphere filling in the blanks when our understanding wavers or is inadequate in meeting their needs. Practitioners of the Educaring Approach and practitioners of interpersonal neuroscience have much to offer each other in the service of infant mental health. If there is one simple point of convergence, I have found in my studies in Educaring and affective neuroscience, it is that, in the first two or three years of a child’s life, it is more important to support emotional connections than cognitive learning. Said simply, it is more important to read the baby than to read to the baby. Everything important proceeds from this secure base.

Finally, if self-regulation is composed of a combination of co-regulation and auto-regulation, the sensitive adult is actually co-regulating when allowing an infant a chance to auto-regulate. Allowing a child (when he is not stressed to the far reaches of his regulatory boundaries) appropriate opportunities to auto-regulate is not abandonment; it is discernment. It is, as Magda coined it, selective intervention.

* Subcortical (meaning below the cortex) regions of the brain include the limbic and brainstem areas, as well as neural systems throughout the body (Siegel, 2012, Section AI–79).

Ruth Anne Hammond, RIE Associate

From the RIE Manual


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