Ruth Anne Hammond

Infant/Toddler Development Consultant

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What is Boredom?
Part 1 7/​31/​17

“Mommy, I’m bored….” How many times have you heard that whine? What effect does it have on you? Do you quickly make ten suggestions of things to do (which are usually rejected?) and then get irritated, or do you feel guilty because you’re not doing enough for children? Maybe a different way of hearing this complaint will make it easier to respond with patience and understanding. It helps to ask, what is the child really needing? What is boredom? And as adults, what do we mean when we say we are bored? Let’s get into the interpersonal neurobiology of boredom a little before we talk about what to do about it….

According to Allan Schore’s Regulation Theory, affects (which is to say, feelings) must be managed in some way by the person (or other organism), and there are two qualities to consider in looking at and regulating feelings: valence and arousal. Valence refers to the pleasantness or unpleasantness factor, the tone, and arousal refers to how low- or high-key the experience of the emotion is. For instance, the emotion one feels at seeing a pretty flower while taking a walk would be pleasant/​moderate, compared with the ecstatic/​high one feels when a lover comes home from war. Every feeling comes in a whole continuum of levels, and life is a constant flow of crescendos and decrescendos of one feeling or another that tie our bodies and our minds into some sort of integrated way of being.

How much energy must be expended to regulate any emotion depends upon how highly aroused the person is and what the tone of the feeling is. The most energy-expending feelings to regulate are strong unpleasant ones, like fear or grief. It takes a well-functioning parasympathetic nervous system to down-regulate these, and we sometimes need the input of another person, a co-regulator, to help us get back to some tolerable base line. Children need even more interactive regulation than adults, and getting enough help from adults actually allows them to grow up more able to self-regulate in a healthy way. This is obvious for negative high-arousal states, and we also have the need to share our joys, too. But what about low arousal? Can that always be handled independently, without help? Apparently, as we learn from whiny children (and depressed adults), it cannot. But do we need to entertain them out of boredom? I don’t think so…. (To Be Continued)

What About Baby Talk? Part 1

Has anyone ever told you that you should speak to your baby like you speak to an adult? Did that make you wonder if you can take ‘respect’ a bit too far? I’ve been thinking about that….

The primary question is…does respect look and sound the same regardless of the age of the person, or the nature of our relationship? Aren't we more subtle than that? We show respect to our bosses and grandmothers by using different language and tones of voice than we do with our buddies, certainly. One of the hallmarks of respect is communication that can be understood by the other person, so teenage slang doesn’t usually play with grandmothers. And…adult tones of voice are actually not what babies respond to as they learn about social communication. They need something called ‘motherese,’ ‘parentese,’ or ‘infant-directed speech.’

This kind of communication is actually adopted unconsciously by most adults and older children when speaking with a baby, and is characterized by elongated vowels, higher pitch, musicality and repetition. These qualities of speech are offered up automatically, out of the right side of the brain, as a time-tested way of making the communication understandable and engaging to the baby. And what is it that the baby is learning from this ‘baby talk?’ He is learning about love, that communication transmits emotions, and is an avenue for building relationships.

Of course he is also learning vocabulary, syntax, and sentence structure on some level that won’t show up for many months, so even in infant-directed speech, we can use the proper words for things and decent grammar. But if you’ve ever been made to feel like you shouldn’t call your darling Snookiekins, relax and appreciate her joyful, wide-eyed interest. Mother Nature would approve!

What About Baby Talk? Part 2

If “motherese” or “infant directed speech” sets the tone of the conversation with a baby, there is still the issue of actual content. Why talk to little babies? They can’t understand words, right? The parts of the brain that process and produce speech are undeveloped, but somehow, being spoken to early on in specific ways sets up a baby for success in literacy and life…so it’s a good idea to ponder a bit about what we are saying to them.

There are so many reasons people talk to each other, and that is true of our communications with babies, too. Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but it is worth consciously considering for a moment. What are the subjects of dialogue with a baby that are meaningful to both participants? How much information should we give? How simple or complex should the language be? Should we project meaning onto their utterances? These are all variables that are usually “answered” in an unconscious way, as adults tend to speak to babies as they were spoken to at that age, based upon implicit memory, history repeating itself. Here, I want to bring to light a few apparent assumptions about babies and young children that ways of addressing them indicate….

There are grownups who speak to children in a really exaggerated, even loud, voice, with pronounced facial animation and overly simplistic language, who seem not to expect the child to answer or understand, who don’t actually expect to learn anything from the child. By contrast, there are those who speak to children as the intelligent beings they are (though in a nicely musical and inviting way) about things that are actually of interest to the child…and who sincerely listen or watch for a response before proceeding. There is authentic turn-taking in these conversation. These are the grownups that children seem to gravitate towards, whereas they tend to hang back from the first, especially slow-to-warm-up children.

As I learned from Magda Gerber, respecting babies includes some specific ways of speaking with them (and there has been lots written about this in the RIE® literature that is helpful) but you can’t refer to a script of what to say to children while you’re actually having the conversation. If you just make a point of operating out of open curiosity to understand what the child is feeling and experiencing, which entails listening, observing, and slowing down, you’ll find yourself in a dialogue that may not feel like you are talking to a baby, but talking with a person. Next, we’ll explore relevant conversational topics and timing.

Talking at snack time.

Selected Works

Article: Educaring, Affective Neuroscience and Selective Intervention
This article ties together RIE's Educaring Approach with the new field of affective neuroscience to describe how RIE methods of infant care and education lead to self-regulation in babies and young children.
A guide for all those who take care of babies.

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