Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pick That Kid Up

As I wander through life, one of the things that surprises me is the number of very attentive and involved parents who leave their children in portable plastic infant carriers all day long. Walking down the street I see parents who look like they might be permanently disfigured by hooking the handle of the child carrier in the crook of their elbow and struggling to carry their toddler safely encased in his carrier. I see parents take the removable carrier/car seat from the car, transfer it to the stroller and roll the kid 15 feet into older sister’s ballet, martial arts or swim class where they leave them in the carrier for the entire duration of the class. How about the parent who is sitting somewhere with a child in the carrier, holding a bottle while the child eats? To me, there’s something wrong with this picture.

What happened to holding your child or carrying them in your arms? Or letting them crawl around on the floor in a public place? We seem to live in an era of anti-bacterial lotions and gels, where parents are afraid to let their kids crawl around, get dirty, or fall down. What are we so afraid of? And what does that say about someone like me, who still believes in the five second rule when a piece of food is dropped on the floor?

The other night I was at a grade school play with two of my grandkids. As the play went on and on (as these things do), the three year old wandered off from next to me, laid on the linoleum and started an impressive floor routine involving snow angels and spins. From the expression of the other parents and kids, you would have thought they had never seen a child play in an unstructured manner before. They laughed and smiled at his uninhibited joy in the freedom he was experiencing.

So what are infants missing out on when they’re strapped in their car seat all day long? First, there’s the issue of proper vision development. As an infant’s eye sight develops, their ability to detect colors, focus, track motion, and discern depth improve with exposure to stimulation. If they’re strapped in a carrier, the infant’s frame of reference is the white ceiling of the grocery store, swim school or dance studio rather than the vibrant colors of mom’s blouse or the warmth of dad’s smile. University of Massachusetts Medical School stresses the importance of visual stimulation for proper eye development. I have spoken to multiple physicians who have expressed concern for vision issues this practice can cause later in life. Even a variety of interactive toys hanging within reach can’t compare to the eye contact an infant receives from being close to your face, or the positive feedback in seeing your eyes dance or smile.

And what about the lack of tactile stimulation? Yes, when you hold an infant, they squirm and wiggle, and can be a bit of a pain. But think about the muscles they are developing by holding their heads up or trying to push away from you. Consider the understanding of texture and shape they get from touching different things. Outside of their carriers, infants are open to so many more simple experiences that can greatly impact their development. They can also move around, get dirty, and even fall down – additional experiences which teach lessons and influence development.

So do your child a huge favor and pick them up. Think of it as expanding their physical and intellectual development and exposing them to life outside the confines of their carrier.


Sara McHale said...

I couldn't agree more!
Check out the links below for a great idea on how to WEAR your baby. I have used wraps and ring-slings with my two youngest kiddos since week one of life and it really calms them to be with mom (or dad- my husband loves to wear the babies also)in such a close way.

Elizabeth said...

I agree that babies should be held as often as possible. Mila (4 months)is in my arms for the duration of Alex's swimming lessons. However, I must complain that it's a challenge to manage the plastic carrier, diaper bag, Alex's towels, etc., at the same time. These items usually end up in a heap that migrates, awkwardly, from plastic observation chairs to changing area to restroom, etc., while onlookers avert their eyes from my display-toppling, teetering pas de deux. Ah, the physical challenges of motherhood ... I need a shopping cart!