Your baby. Sometimes you look at them and see their future – their home, their spouse, their children. You know you’ll do anything to support them reaching that future. Just one little hitch: it means you’ll have to let them go. The great news is that you get to start small by helping them to see themselves as their own person, separate from you. This process is called individuation and begins somewhere around 4 or 5 months.
The process of individuation does not really end – anytime you have thoughts about ‘re-inventing’ yourself; or notice that you like (or dislike) something more (or less!) than at a previous time in your life; or perhaps are adjusting to a change in your daily dynamic (like say, becoming a parent!) – you are working on the idea of who you think you are as an individual. As an infant your baby lives by instinct and reflex. Eventually they begin to notice that they are… not… you. That you are… over… there… and they are… over… here.
One of the simple Kindermusik class rituals which support the beginnings of this process are the hello and goodbye songs: musically greeting everyone (and bidding them farewell) by name. Yup – I meant very simple! You may think: meh. That can’t really be so valuable. Well, you can see it – you can see on the faces of the children that they know when they have been acknowledged – or when they have not.
A handful of years ago, a pair of twins named Sydney & Lindsey came to be members of the Baby Steps Giant Leaps community and shone a light for me on the power of singing the names of babies.
One class, about a month into their weekly attendance, I happened to land in the circle, at the beginning of class, between Lyndsey & Ata Leslie, and Sydney & Momma Kim. We began to sing our hellos with Lyndsey & Leslie to my left and made our way around the circle. After just 3 baby/adult pairs of names, my peripheral vision picked up some wiggling. When I looked to my right, I saw that Sydney was agitated! Her glances were darting between her sister, her mom and me, as I guided our attention around the circle to each family. (If you have not tried Kindermusik, the hello song is not just singing the names of the participants, we insert the names into melodies between 8 and 16 measures long – so we sing it through several times to include everyone.) Well, beautiful L’il Miss Sydney, was now grabbing her momma and patting her chest, and becoming increasingly troubled. She was visibly upset and nearing tears. That was… until we got to “bounce hello to Syndey, bounce hello to Kim”. Then that wee 5 (or so) month old girl exhaled and relaxed into her momma’s lap. Yes – she was that little – just past 5 months! – and her anxiety was quelled by hearing her name.
It is my estimation that Sydney was so accustomed to hearing her name right next to her sister Lyndsey’s that when she didn’t… she felt to her wee baby core: separation. This is individuation’s uncomfortable beginnings – it is what helps your baby know that they are… not you. Once this idea gets their attention, the lifelong journey of discovering who they, then … are… begins.
Parenting involves much repetition, and the easiest thing to repeatedly say to your child is, “I love you, Jack.”