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.