Raising a Continuum Child

The Continuum Concept is a theory devised by author Jean Liedloff after spending long periods of time living with and observing the Yequana tribe in the jungles of South America. She observed that the people of the tribe were the happiest she had ever witnessed and found through studying their child rearing practices, this to be a huge contributing factor.

The Yequana, free from the distractions and “conveniences” of modern life raise their children in line with their evolutionary expectations, recognising that a babies cry is a signal of an unmet need; Hunger or comfort for example – and as such, they meet the babies needs fully and immediately without the baby ever having to become distressed. Babies are carried constantly in the arms of their mother or another close family member, breastfed on cue and included in all aspects of the adults (or older child’s) busy life. This is vastly different from the many lonely babies in our culture, left alone in buggies and cots, put in their own room early on to “help them gain independence” and often left to cry. Who are weaned off the breast early (if given it at all) so the mother can “get her body back” and the baby does not become too clingy or dependent on her.

The Yequana way is how we were all evolved to be cared for as babies and leads to confident and secure adults. Unfortunately, this is not the reality for many babies in our society.

The main principles of The Continuum Concept are –

Cosleeping/bedsharing – The baby sleeping with his mother, in her arms or next to her. Moving out of the family bed in his own time when he feels ready, which will often occur at around age 2 but not typically younger than that.

In arms – Constant carrying in arms or a sling throughout the day. This enables babies to watch activities from an adults view point, learning about the ways of his elders from a safe and secure position.

Breastfeeding – On the baby’s signal, with no schedules or routines enforced. In meeting the two previous needs the baby will have instant access to the breast.

Giving value to a baby’s cry – Knowing that it means something is wrong and something must be done rather than suspecting that the baby is manipulating you.

TRUST! – Trusting that the baby wants to be a part of her culture, tribe, family, whatever the case. That they will learn and copy and imitate and find their own limits. That they don’t need to be constantly instructed in order to get results. That they need to take risks and explore to learn and discover the world around them.

Babies instinctively know why they are here – to learn how to become adults. And how do they learn this? By watching our every move and soaking it all up like the little sponges they are. Precisely why parents with a “do what I say, not what I do” attitude are continually baffled as to the “misbehaviour” of their children and wonder where they could be going wrong. Children want to be included in adult activities and when the time comes, they NEED to be able to try it, explore it, learn from it.

Here are some things you can do with this in mind –

Examine your hobbies and activities-

I like to make things, sewing and knitting for example . Obviously knitting is something that could easily be ruined with a babies exploratory fingers so I would not allow my baby to snatch my needles away. Instead, I settle myself on the floor on some cushions so I am at his level and give him his own ball of wool and knitting needles. He will watch me and mimic my movements, bang the needles together and unravel the wool. When he is satisfied he may drop it and go off to investigate something else returning when he feels like it.

This example can be translated in to most things. If you want to sit and read, either do it out loud and baby can turn the pages or give her a stack of books to sit with next to you. If you are cleaning, he can hold the feather duster or bang the dustpan and brush. Cooking? Baby can sits on your hip while you stir the food, she can have a wooden spoon and empty pan to explore on the floor.

When you take the laundry out of the machine, she can pull bits out and place them in the basket.

Things might take a bit longer to complete, but the impact of enabling your baby to feel included and soak up these new experiences will be so beneficial to them.

As children become older they will be capable of doing more – chopping the vegetables, watering the plants, wiping the table, putting clothes away. This should be their choice and although it can be encouraged and expected of them, it should never be forced.

By providing these experiences when your baby/toddler/child is interested you are aiding them in becoming a useful and valued member of the family. You wont be nagging them to help you with the cooking or cleaning as it will be part of their lives. They will do it because they want to, not because you tell them too.

Image: africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

11 thoughts on “Raising a Continuum Child”

  1. This is very nice, I find the continuum concept, ap and aware parenting to be all very similar in that baby has needs met right away and is raised as an integral member of the family/society. I wish this would be the norm but I recognize too many parents have demands and stressors in life and the culture of many countries just does not support parents to be able to carry these out fully as life has becomes fast paced race of sorts…

    1. Great concept. My kids are grown up now but I pretty much intuitively followed these principles especially with my 3rd child!

  2. Interesting, I did all these things with my adult children, they cooked and had their own duster and pan and with brush, ironed hankys etc etc but believe me they had no interest in doing these things voluntarily when they were older, yes children need to be nurtured, loved respected and taught boundaries to keep them safe, encouraged to follow their dreams and reach for the stars, these children this woman is referring to are beautiful and are being brought up in a wonderful culture where everyone is the same and does the same childrearing because it is what they know, I don’t see it working in our culture though.

    1. I would love to know whether your older children have had children yet? Have they adopted the Continuum parenting style they experienced when you were raising them? Or has the culture of their teenage and young adult years altered their values?

  3. Yeah, as it is mentioned in the comments here in this blog, this method of child rearing is good and interesting but adopting to this type of child rearing in to our culture will not work out. Parenting is an art and I think what ever method parents choose to bring up their children they have to be a bit careful as well. Anyways, thank you for sharing this information with everyone and keep sharing…..

  4. I was blown away reading The Continuum Concept and it definitely helped shape my feelings about parenting. I believe the tribe parented in the way nature intended, in the ideal way. The Art of parenting as someone above mentioned, includes taking into account the culture we find ourselves in. I am coming to believe having parenting theories that have names and lists of ‘requirements’ to be able to be a ‘…’ parent adds to the judgement culture mothers find themselves in in this modern world of mothering. We judge ourselves if we don’t fit into our ideal model or a style with a name, and we feel judgement from others. Obviously, to live without judgement is an ideal situation but very hard.

  5. It is so interesting, my boys are now 8 and 5 and when they were babies I had them sleeping with me in my bed. Mainly because with my eldest I spent a few months of my maternity leave in Egypt as my husband is Egyptian. The natural and most obvious place for my baby there was in my bed with me. When I returned we kept it like that but I hardly spoke about it with anyone as no one else was doing it. I did the same for my second child and I am more aware that co-sleeping is become something that some people do but not many. It had a direct affect on me being able to breast feed until past 18 months. I would definitely advocate it but know and understand that for many women here in the west it isn’t for them. I think like the comment above we need to be open and accepting of however a mother /father parents their child. There is so much we can learn from people still living close to nature though, we are removing ourselves from it so much!

  6. Some of the comments above say that the continuum style of parenting “isn’t for” some mothers. This is a shame, as I think we can agree that it IS for all babies! I think it is their point of view we should be most concerned with, despite any embarassment about choosing an “extreme” (but actually the most natural you can get) parenting style. I agree that the surrounding culture makes it more difficult. The tribe naturally spreads the responsibilty of childrearing and I often feel lonely as a continuum mother in a world that doesn’t understand. But I believe it is important to mend the continuum for my daughter so that she can one day become the happy and confident woman she was born to be. It would be great if likeminded mothers had better means to find and support each other, but the idea of families coming together and forming a tribal style community is just too much of a stretch for many brought up to believe that our individualistic capitalist culture is the one and only correct way to live (please read Daniel Quinn’s ‘Ishmael’ if you want more background for this comment). I am commited to the continuum approach, but I do dread sending DD to Western school where our value system will seem strange and I will be seen as ‘cruel’ for ‘making her’ do grown up tasks, no matter how much she loves it and that it actually prepares her for her adult life in this world.

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