Posted by: Roseann Murphy | March 4, 2011

Respect is Key to Baby Development

What were you doing Friday, June 5, 1981?  The beloved Dr. Emmi Pikler was sitting for an interview with the Los Angeles Times.  Dr. Pikler and Magda Gerber are the “jewels” of the infant/toddler care movement.  This article is priceless and continues to expand the authentic version of Magda Gerber’s RIE.
Philosophy of an Infant Specialist.



RESPECT is Key to Baby Development

by  Joy Horowitz, Times Staff Writer
Respect.  When the subject is mentioned, pediatrician Emmi Pikler sticks out her tongue.  It is not a sign of displeasure from the distinguished 79-year-old infant specialist, but an imitation of a baby’s first rejecting movement, an early signal from the child of having had enough to eat.  Disrespectful parents, Pikler says, might never see or understand that gesture.
Respect.  It is the key to Pikler’s philosophy of infant care, one that forbids a doctor’s examining a crying child until calm, that promotes treating the infant as an active participant rather than a passive recipient when it is diapered, fed and dressed.  “One has only to expect the child will cooperate,”  Pikler says, smiling, her English heavily accented by her native Hungarian.
Respect . It demands early free movement that is not interfered with by parents or caretakers.  Pikler says, so that a baby can fully develop a capacity to solve problems and take the initiative on his own.   By letting the infant develop at his own rate, Pikler adds, the baby chooses how to move and what to play with rather than being pushed to sit, stand or walk before he is ready.
If all this sounds fairly simple, it is – until the theory is translated into practice.  It is then that no toy is placed in a child’s hand, no pacifier, is plunked into a baby’s mouth, no mobile is dangled over the baby’s head, no milestones are worried about, no one places a baby in a sitting position before he can sit up alone, no one tries to teach a baby how to stand or walk, no one picks up a child without first telling him.

Extra Stimulation Unneeded

“Stimulation,” Pikler explains, “is usually extra stimulation.  For an infant, the whole surrounding is stimulation. Each toy, each new movement is stimulations because it is new and has to be learned.  When an adult interferes, it is extra stimulation—more than is needed for an infant or small child.”
Challenging, threatening and demanding for many parents, Emmi Pikler’s idea about treating infants with the same respect accorded adults and older children require most people to rethink the way they deal with children.  And that rethinking process appears to be gaining some popularity in the United States.
Though her writings have never been translated into English, the Budapest-based pediatrician, whose ideas have been met with some controversy in Europe, was the subject of recent Parent’s magazine article entitled. “The Pikler Method: A New Way to Raise a Happier Baby.”
In California, Pikler’s approach toward child-rearing-which seems to breathe new life to that well-worn phrase “quality time” – has been embraced and promoted by Hungarian born infant educator MAGDA GERBER, first through the Demonstration Infant Program in Palo Alto and then through the Los Angeles –based Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE), which offers services to parents and professionals involved in the care of young children.
In town for a conference on infants this weekend at Pomona College.  Pikler has come to the United States to spread the word about the possibilities of quality group care and about her work with infants during the past 35 years as director of the National Methodological Institute for Residential Nurseries, an infant-group-care facility in Budapest known as Loczy.
Pikler’s work at Loczy, where more than 2,000 newborns through age 3 have been cared for due to their mother’s death or ill health, has demonstrated that the stability of caretaking makes a critical difference in infant care.  At Loczy, babies are cared for in “families” of eight children and each child has a special nurse.
Follow-up studies of “Pikler babies” at Loczy seem to contradict earlier psychological data that children raised in institutional settings do not thrive in later years.


A 1968 study, funded by the World Health Organization showed that Loczy babies as teen-agers were well within the normal range of mental health, intelligence and economic achievement.  And a 1978 study further countered the findings of British psychologist John Bowlby, who reported that children reared in institutions did not later develop intimate relationships, or became rejecting parents.  Instead the Loczy-reared babies, as parents, all reared their children within the family setting.
A central factor in Loczy’s success is Pikler’s belief that the ordinary routines of child care-diapering, feeding and dressing—offer opportunities for closeness and learning when the caretaker can be relied upon to do his part.
“These moments of everyday routine have a cumulative effect, says Gerber, who adds that too often, mothers try to do two things at once rather than simply focus on the task at hand.  “We tell mothers to take their phone off when they diaper their child.
“Then tell you child, ‘I don’t want to be disturbed.  Now I want to diaper you.’  So these moments together are fulfilling moments for both.  Then put the child down and let him play by himself….
“But usually, parents do neithe4r.  They put the baby on the kitchen table or carry it around for stimulation because experts tell them to.  But they are not really together. It is a kind of togetherness you get at a cocktail party.  Many bodies are together, but do you eve fell closeness?  Everybody talks to you and looks for somebody else.”
“When you are with the child,” Pikler adds. “Be fully there.  And then go your separate ways.”
Since children at Loczy play for long periods of time by themselves or with others, critics have suggested that the children are neglected because adults do not interrupt their play.  And since Pikler is opposed to teaching children how to sit and stand, Loczy babies generally accomplish these gross motor skills a few months later than other babies.

‘Skills Learned Well’

“But at two years,” Pikler says, “They worked better than other children because they know things better.  They learned the basic skills well, not just early”
Offering babies a choice at a very early age – between an apple or piece of cheese, for example—is another key element in Pikler’s method of promoting independence and autonomy.  Similarly, Pikler and Gerber oppose the use of high chairs, infant seats, bouncers or walkers because they restrict the child’s movement.
“If a child is in a babyseat, he can’t play by himself,” Pikler says. “If something falls down, he can’t pick it up himself and comes to rely on the mother’s rescuing him.  He has to ask for help rather than learn how to solve problems.  A restricted or confined child will become passive or cranky.”
Pikler is quick to point out that “an institute is never as good as a family.  It’s needed sometimes, but a normal family with a loving mother is the best for the infant.”
And what about day care?  “Day care can be made much better all over the world if we learned from the experiment of Loczy,” says Gerber.
“At most day-care centers, children are cared for randomly, picked up by one person and fed by another.  Children are cared for as objects.  What the child needs is relationships with the least possible number of stable adults.
“We have to play, to invest—both at home with the child and in day-care centers.  Infancy is a very complex time.  But the one thing we seem to not want to give is time.  If you are really there, you become quite vulnerable, because infants touch the infant within us.  That can be quite scary.
Gerber, who sees herself as a kind of spokesperson for babies, offers a parting shot in deference to Pikler’s methods and babyhood:  “You do not talk in front of a child about the child.  Only talk directly to the child, because that is respect.
Rodney Dangerfield and Aretha Franklin would probably agree.

It is not surprising that this article is timeless.  This interview could have been done yesterday.  The method is not difficult to understand when it is presented as the authentic truthful methodology we are privileged to be a part of.

Post by: Roseann Murphy.


  1. […] to put down the phone before I dress her. Our Babies Ourselves, at and Respect is Key to Baby Development at Little River School Online were precisely what I needed to read. I am falling in love with […]


  2. Tremendous things here. I’m very glad to look your article. Thanks so much and I’m taking a look forward to touch you. Will you please drop me a mail?


  3. Thank you for this amazing post Magdalena 🙂


  4. […] Respect.  When the subject is mentioned, pediatrician Emmi Pikler sticks out her tongue.  It is not a sign of displeasure from the distinguished 79-year-old infant specialist, but an imitation of a baby’s first rejecting movement, an early signal from the child of having had enough to eat. (from an interview with Emmi Pikler, reproduced on Little River School blog) […]


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