How to Treat Your Baby Like a Person

Babies are remarkable - fully formed little people with their own personalities from the start. However, taking care of their basic needs often overshadows our ability to treat them as people. Dr. Nanika Coor offers 5 ways to bond with your baby while enjoying their unique perspective of the world.

Nanika Coor, Psy. D.
5-minute read
Episode #635
The Quick And Dirty

Here are five ways to build an early bond with your baby and sow the seeds for mutual respect in the future:

  1. Show respect for baby's body autonomy.
  2. Trust that your baby is competent.
  3. Take intentional interest in who your baby already is.
  4. Invite your baby to take part in caregiving activities.
  5. Allow your baby to have their feelings.

Hi and welcome to the Project Parenthood podcast! I’m Dr. Nanika Coor, a clinical psychologist and respectful parenting therapist. This podcast is for parents who want to experience more peace, connection, ease, flexibility, and fun with their kids, and have less conflict and struggle in their relationships with their children - no matter how old they are.

Before becoming a parent, I once had an unfortunate incident with a friend’s child. Without meaning to, I came off more harshly than I’d intended and that moment of seeing the little girl's face painted with fear, well, it really stuck with me.

Wanting to be a parent someday, I went seeking answers to the question: How do you control children without scaring children?

What I found blew my mind and changed the course of my career. A foundational principle of respectful parenting is that control is not the goal. Instead you choose collaboration borne out of mutual respect. I was also surprised to learn that you can start creating that environment of mutual respect right from the start of a baby’s life. It’s easy to find information about how to “manage” babies in terms of feeding, diapering, getting them to sleep, and settling them down. But beyond these basic needs, you can actually start building a relationship with your baby as soon as they’re born. And this relationship will become the foundation for lifelong mutual respect.

Here are five ways to build your bond:

Tip #1: Show respect for babies’ body autonomy

Magda Gerber, creator of the respectful caregiving approach Resources for Infant Educarers, commonly known as RIE (pronounced “rye”), was a parent and caregiver educator, infant specialist, and author of the book, Your Self-Confident Baby. She encouraged parents to prioritize the caregiver-child relationship by showing respect for babies in all of their interactions.

The first way parents can build a connection is by being mindful of their baby’s body autonomy.  Tell your baby what you are about to do with their body before you do it, wait a moment for them to take in the information, and then proceed with the caregiving task.  When starting the day, you might say, “Good morning, little one! It’s time to get out of the crib. I’m going to pick you up now...ready? Here we go.” This sows seeds for the concept of consent down the line, and makes it clear that the child has a say in what happens to their body.

This sows seeds for the concept of consent down the line, and makes it clear that the child has a say in what happens to their body.

Tip #2: Trust that your baby is competent

The second way we can cultivate strong relationships with babies is by practicing acceptance of where they are now in their development and trusting that when they are ready to reach their next milestone, they will.

What might this look like? Instead of putting babies into positions they can’t yet get into or out of on their own (like propping them in seated positions or walking them by their hands before they have the strength to do so themselves), try regularly placing them on their back on a blanket and letting them find their way to these positions naturally, in their own way and in their own time. Accept where they are right now and trust that when they are motivated to learn the next thing - they will. Celebrate what your baby can already do right now! 

Tip #3: Take intentional interest in who your baby already is

Babies are already formed people when they are born. Get to know them! Carve out 5-10 minutes to lie next to your baby while they lie on their back, and just observe them. Instead of directing their gaze toward an object you dangle in front of them, follow their lead. You don’t need to actively do anything. Your interest, acceptance, and delight in them just as they are (without trying to get them to do anything) is doing so much for their burgeoning self-worth and the connection between you. What do their eyes naturally rest on? What faces do they make? Do they make any repetitive movements? What do they seem interested in? Give them a chance to show you who they are.

Tip #4: Invite your baby to participate in caregiving activities

Going along with Tip #1 about respecting babies' body autonomy, invite your baby to engage in caregiving activities like bathing, dressing, diapering, and feeding.

That could sound like, “It’s time to get these socks on...would you like to hold one sock while I put the other on your foot?” or “It’s time for me to put this diaper under you. Will you lift your legs?” This is what early collaboration looks like. It’s the difference between working with your baby as if they are a person, and doing things to your baby as if they are an object.

It’s the difference between working with your baby as if they are a person, and doing things to your baby as if they are an object.

Tip #5: Allow your baby to have their feelings

The fifth way to connect with your baby is to accept, rather than shut down, their emotions. This means allowing them to experience and express all of their emotions for as long and as strong as they need to. For babies, crying is the main form of communication. If you’ve attended to their biological needs and they’re still distressed, it’s possible that they’re communicating:  “I’m overwhelmed and I need comfort and connection!”

Instead of trying frantically to get the crying to stop, focus on being a calm, compassionate presence. The calmer your nervous system gets, the calmer your baby’s will get. Use gentle words, a soft tone, and a calm touch. Say something like, “You’re having some really big feelings! I know how hard that can be. All of your feelings are welcome here with me. We can get through this together. I’m here for you.” You’ll need this skill of organizing the emotions of another person for the duration of your relationship with your child, although it will look different at different stages of development. Luckily, you’ll have infinite chances to practice!

Every time you intentionally slow down to your baby’s pace, follow their lead, take an interest in who they are, and accept them in whatever state they’re in, striving to work with them instead of on them, you create a culture of mutual respect and cooperation. You’re modeling how to treat others. Right from the beginning, your relationship starts to teach them what respect feels like.

I hope this inspires you to get to know your baby as a capable and connected person who has more to teach you than you might have realized. 

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Nanika Coor, Psy. D.

Dr. Nanika Coor is a New York-based clinical psychologist and respectful parenting therapist. She helps overwhelmed parents hear a kinder inner voice and experience more mutually-respectful interactions with their children. Find out more about her work at www.brooklynparenttherapy.com.

Got a question that you'd like Dr. Coor to answer on Project Parenthood? Leave her a message at (646) 926-3243 or send an email to parenthood@quickanddirtytips.com