It can be stressful to watch children, especially babies, navigate new play structures and climbing equipment. When a baby climbs to the top of a play structure for the first time, they may need an adult nearby to make sure they stay safe. It may feel tempting to have our hands on them the whole time, but this actually increases the risk of a serious injury later. Too much help from us makes it hard for the child to judge their own abilities and can lead to risky behavior, which we won't always be there to prevent. Children are safer when they are the ones in charge of keeping their own bodies balanced.
Here are some baby-friendly tips for spotting respectfully, inspired by Magda Gerber's Educaring® Approach (RIE®). You can see me using these techniques in the accompanying photos from my parent infant guidance classes.
1. Don't Stress!
Babies take their cues from us, so our attitude is very important. If your body language or tone of voice is anxious, you send the baby the message, "I don't think you can do it." You may be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Unless this is an unacceptably risky situation where you want your baby to freeze until you can scoop them up, focus on keeping your movements slow and your posture relaxed.
2. Hands Down
Keep your hands by your side, palms down. You can sit or stand close enough to catch a falling baby without creating an inviting net with your hands, and your relaxed posture will give your baby confidence.
3. Provide Information
In general, it is best to remain quiet so you don't break your baby's concentration. If you see something you want your baby to be aware of, point it out with a gentle gesture and a calm tone of voice. "This part is slippery from the rain," or "Jose is behind you."
I will also speak to a baby if it seems like they are not paying attention to what they are doing. For example, if a child is high up on my triangular climbing structure and becomes distracted by another child across the room, I might say, "You are watching Sophie bang the cars. You are at the top of the triangle."
Usually these simple pieces of information are enough to help babies navigate new risks independently.