1. Don’t be scared
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. Calm attitude
Keep your hands by your side, palms down. You can stand close enough to catch a falling baby without creating an inviting net with your hands. Your calm attitude 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. Usually these simple pieces of information are enough to help babies navigate new risks independently.
4. Allow Losses of Balance
A loss of balance–in other words a fall–is very informative for a baby. The sudden disequilibrium tells the baby, “That was risky. I need to back off or change my strategy.” Our job is not to prevent every loss of balance, it is to monitor the environment to make sure there are no challenges too dangerous for the baby to attempt. We can also help keep a child safe by spotting them and breaking the fall so they don’t become injured.
5. Be a Rock
If your baby is asking for help or tries to use your body to help them stay stable while they climb, be a rock. That means keeping your own body very still and letting the baby use you for handholds. You can do this instead of holding the baby’s hands, which usually means you immediately take over the job of balancing the baby. Let them be in charge of balancing and offer your shoulder or knee instead.
6. Coach a scared child, instead of taking over
Sometimes babies end up higher than they expected to be or become fatigued while climbing. They may get scared and freeze up. When a baby’s body goes stiff all over and they call out to you or cry, they need help. Rather than immediately swooping in to remove them from the structure, try to help in small ways first. You can put your hand on the child’s back briefly so they can feel that you are with them and say, “I am here. I will help you and I won’t let you fall.” Then you can help them see where they can put their hands and feet so they can get back to the ground. You can offer suggestions verbally first. If more assistance is needed, you can gently guide their body back down to the ground.
Infants that experience this kind of independence in their gross motor development grow up to be graceful, competent adults who can judge risk well. Trust your baby, and you will love the results!