Demonstrating Respect in Sleepy Hollow
– ‘the 3 R’s of caring for children and young people’

As individuals and as a profession, our understanding of respect has been expanded by the work and writing of educators in Reggio Emilia, Italy They believe that children must be viewed as having rights, rather than simply needs (Ghedini, 2001; Malaguzzi, 1993; Rinaldi, 1998). If we concur that one of our basic human rights is to be respected and treated in a respectful manner, then we have to begin at birth building a strong foundation for the development of respect. What better way to teach respect than to intentionally demonstrate it during our work with young children.

As most people will be aware Sleepy Hollow is inspired by Reggio Emilia in its Day Nursery and by the Playwork Principles in Afterschools Units. In all settings we look to the 3 R’s in providing care for the children and young people in our settings :-

Respect : Respect is shown by staff when they treat the young people in our care in ways similar to how they would like to be treated themselves by others! If we declare respect an educational value (Rinaldi, 2001), then we need to consider both personal and professional basis for this decision. This is the Golden Rule of Quality Care. When we are engaging with young babies for example to change nappies, we will tell the baby what we are doing eg. ‘Sam, I am going to change your nappy now ‘. During the nappy changing routine we will engage in talking to the baby rather than engaging solely with other adults in the room. This will be the same at meal times and any other routine of the day with children of all ages. We will maintain eye contact with children and this way all parts of our daily routine are positive experiences.

Response : This requires staff to observe and know the children. Staff will watch for cues given by all ages of children. Often they will learn to read the body language of young babies and toddlers, know their temperament and traits and respond as needed. When young children know that a staff member will respond to their needs, children have the confidence to venture forth to explore and discover.

Relationship : A respectful and responsive staff member forms a positive connection with each child in their setting. ‘First learning is more about building a structure for thinking than about adding knowledge’ (Butterfield, Martin & Pairie 2004). A positive relationship leads to healthy social and emotional development and in turn encourages children to feel, and be, competent and capable. Both of these characteristics help the child to explore, discover, learn and succeed.

Respect in the Day Care environment : Working with the under 2’s

(most of these approaches cover our approaches with all ages of children)

Dr Emmi Pikler lived and found her life’s purpose, working with infants in her homeland of Hungary. Pikler, a paediatrician, took over the running of a Home for Children (known as Loczy) in Budapest in 1946. One whom she mentored was Magda Gerber who took Pikler’s philosophy to the USA and introduced it to her new homeland.
Emmi Pikler died in 1984 and Magda Gerber in 2007. Their work however lives on in so many ways and places.
Pikler set an example that the world is just beginning to wake up to. She knew that in order for babies to develop perfectly in the way that nature had intended, the following key principles should be followed :-

Key Principle No.1

Full Attention – especially when involved in the Caring activity times:

Pikler states it does not show respect to babies when we multi-task, any more than when adults multi-task when we require their attention. 100% full attention brings more stillness to lives which have become overwhelmed with speed and ‘productivity’. It is much wiser for us to divide our time than our attention!

Key Principle No. 2 Slow Down:

As we whisk ourselves and our babies through tasks, and jump from activity to activity a sense of turmoil can be created. Over stimulated babies are often fretful. Creating calm around babies is relaxing, as well as peaceful – and allows them to be in an environment where their sacred ‘unfolding’ can take place respectfully.

Key Principle No. 3 Build Trust, and your Relationship, during the Caring activity times:

Pikler believed that caregivers need to take the time to make nappy changing, feeding, bathing and dressing, an unhurried and pleasant quality time - with the baby being an active partner. With nature’s built-in ‘choreography for growth’, if given security and freedom a baby will then spend their time learning just what they need to be learning at any given stage.

Magda Gerber – a student of Emmi Pikler’s ,stated, "When you approach a baby with an attitude of respect, you let him know what you intend to do and give him a chance to respond. You assume he is competent and involve him in his care and let him, as much as possible, solve his own problems. You give him plenty of physical freedom and you don't push development."

Key Principle No.4 ‘With’ – and not ‘To’:
Building a Cooperative relationship with a baby requires that you work together on things. We tend to radically underestimate a baby’s willingness and capability in this area. Pikler saw babies as active participants rather than passive recipients in their care.
All of this requires us to talk to our babies a lot more about what we would like to work with them on – and being patient, giving them time to respond.

For Example: Chloe was caregiver to 12 months old Angus. His Mum said to Chloe – “He has a runny nose today Chloe – and he hates having it wiped – just do your best”. Chloe noticed that Angus’s Mum would (gently) hold the back of his head with her left hand whilst she wiped with her right hand. Understandably – Angus struggled to escape this ‘lockdown’. When Chloe noticed that his nose was running, she held out a tissue in her open hand. She showed it to Angus and quietly said “Angus . . . . Your nose is runny . . . . we’ll have to wipe it together”. And she waited. Angus looked at the tissue – then looked at Chloe. She still waited. He looked at the tissues again . . . . and then placed his little face down into them so that they could wipe his nose together. To be in the presence of a baby who is given the chance to work cooperatively is a beautiful thing!

Key Principle No.5 Babies are never put into a position which they cannot get into by themselves.
The reason for this is that they become trapped – and no longer free in their movement. In essence – a baby becomes a prisoner of his/her own body. Pikler understood the myriad of positive outcomes of Free Movement when she said:


“Whilst learning to turn on the belly, to roll, creep, sit, stand and walk, the baby is not only learning those movements but also how to learn. He learns to do something on his own, to be interested, to try out, to experiment. He learns to overcome difficulties. He comes to know the joy and satisfaction which is derived from this success, the result of his patience and persistence."

Prams; walkers; high-chairs; swings; baby propping apparatus; baby hammocks; ‘safety’ sleeping equipment and car seats are commonly used items. Whilst some of these have valid uses (e.g Car Seat whilst travelling in a car) many are used for extended periods of time allowing a baby no freedom of movement. These items are usually more about convenience BUT not always about what is good for a baby’s development.

Key Principle No.6 Allow babies uninterrupted time for play:

Magda Gerber firmly believes that as babies and young people play uninterrupted by our interaction, they are experiencing independence, and mastery of their world. It is here that the early beginnings of self esteem and confidence building is taking place.

Key Principle No.7 Babies send us cues all the time. Tune in respectfully. When a baby turns her head away when you offer her another mouthful of veggies – she is saying quite clearly, “I’ve had enough”. Caregivers saying “Just one more ” or “Open the tunnel for the train – Here it comes!!!”

The message we are sending to the baby is “I know you have a message that you are communicating to me – but I’m ignoring it”.

As children grow older we use the following principles and concepts :

“To Avoid Interfering With” Allow Time

When adults allow time for children to try and/or to complete a task before providing assistance or necessary intervention, they are demonstrating respect. Infants and toddlers are in turn celebrating their newly acquired skills. However, mastery only comes with repeated opportunities for practice. In addition to providing time for mastery, caregivers must purposely monitor the type and degree of support provided. For some children, it may be sufficient to provide a verbal explanation or question while other children may require physical assistance. We do not rely on one approach too much as all children need a balance of responses so that they can perfect skills and view themselves as capable.

Encourage Children to Make Choices

Another way to think about “refraining from interfering with” is to allow young children to make choices or decisions. This aspect includes not only the explicit choices you provide throughout a day, but also the choices children make independently. Children, especially toddlers, need to be provided choices to help them feel in control of their environment (Marion, 2003). Additionally, when you accept an idea that a toddler has generated independently you are sending the message that she has worthy ideas.

Value Individual Styles

We can also demonstrate respect by valuing individual children’s ways of doing and being. Not all children are vivacious and outgoing, for example. Some children like to observe from a distance before joining others in play. Letting them observe and join in the play when they are ready shows that you respect their style of initiating interactions. Moreover, children, like adults, have special routines or unique ways of doing things. Close observation and documentation on our part, coupled with frequent, open communication with families, will helps us to understand each child’s unique characteristics and know how to respond respectfully to these characteristics.

Create Meaningful Environments

We show children that they are worthy as individuals and deserving of high regard when we create environments and experiences that are meaningful. A key component of best practices is providing age- appropriate, individual, and culturally appropriate experiences that have intellectual integrity (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997). In other words, the children are engaged in experiences that are relevant to their lives and lead to greater understanding of the world and their places in it. One way to deepen understanding is to engage in on-going investigations with young children (Helm & Beneke, 2003; Helm & Katz, 2001; Katz & Chard, 1989). Projects to help the children “see the extraordinary in the
ordinary” (Gandini, January 27, 2001, personal communication) are particularly engaging for older toddlers. In other words, you do not have to create projects on “novel” topics. Listen to the children with your eyes and ears. What are they doing? What interests them? What do they babble or 
talk about? We use this information to plan experiences and investigations that support and enhance all areas of development. This is one of the parts of the Reggio Emilia curriculum we love the most.

Teach Interaction Skills

Young children are inherently social. They interact with others long before they are verbal or can physically move to be in close proximity to others. Infants possess many strategies, such as cooing or smiling, for getting others to attend to them. Even with this high level of social interest and strategies for gaining attention, infants and toddlers lack other necessary skills (e.g., perspective-taking, problem-solving, and emotional regulation) to be successful when interacting with each other. Responsible adults perform most of an infant’s or toddler’s ego functions (e.g., reminding the child about appropriate behavior), thereby regulating the young child’s social interactions for her (Marion, 2003). Thus, these adults do not expect very young children to be able to interact successfully with others. They realistically anticipate devoting significant amounts of time each day to helping children interact with one another and employ several strategies for this purpose. To illustrate, adults can read the nonverbal communication cues for children, describe appropriate behavior, and then allow time for interaction while maintaining close supervision.

Listen to the Children

We communicate respect for young children when we listen to their ideas, feelings, and dreams. Listening to children who possess language is considerably easier than listening to preverbal children. Yet, as caregivers of infants and toddlers, we have to engage in the struggle to decide, “What is she trying to communicate with crying?” or “What does he want when he points towards the door?” When we listen to the children and respond accordingly, it communicates that they and their ideas are important. Utilizing their ideas when planning curriculum not only recognizes the different potential of each child, but also reflects guidelines for developmentally appropriate practices. This also supports the notion that “All children have the potential, albeit in different ways, to learn and to develop their own ideas, theories, and strategies.