Every Child, Even a Tiny Baby, Deserves Time On Their Own (with Hari Grebler)

Do all human beings, even our babies, need time to themselves—freedom to make choices, initiate activities, think their own thoughts? In this episode, Janet and her special guest Hari Grebler say “yes” and explain why. Hari, a Magda Gerber proté​gé, was Janet’s first parenting teacher. Thirty years later, Hari continues to introduce parents in her parent-infant classes to a new perspective—inspiring them to trust and become more attuned to their babies and to develop safe play spaces for them to freely explore at home. Hari and Janet discuss how this works and why it matters—not only for our children’s healthy development (and even their sleep!) but for our mental health. Hari also addresses some of the common misunderstandings that can get in our way.

Transcript of “Every Child, Even a Tiny Baby, Deserves Time On Their Own (with Hari Grebler)”

Hi, this is Janet Lansbury. Welcome to Unruffled.

Today it’s my great pleasure to host my very first parenting teacher and mentor, Hari Grebler. Hari’s parent-infant class, there’s no other way to say it, it changed my life. Gave me a whole new way of seeing, brand new direction, that eventually led me to train with Magda Gerber and find my passion in life, which is sharing this approach that’s made parenting so much richer and enjoyable than I could have ever imagined.

Hari studied with Magda many years before I did, and she still shares her wisdom and her encouragement about listening to and trusting our babies in her parent-infant classes. But recently she began sharing more online, on Facebook and on her Instagram page, Hari’s RIE Studio. For those who haven’t heard me mention this, RIE stands for Resources for Infant Educarers, which is the nonprofit educational organization Magda Gerber founded in 1978.

I’ve asked Hari to share with us today about a core element of Magda’s approach: developing safe play spaces for our babies and toddlers that help us to encourage their play beginning as early as possible. You’ve heard me refer to these as “yes spaces.” And first we’re going to discuss why nurturing play, beginning even at birth, matters to our children and to us. No one understands and can explain this better than Hari.

Hi, Hari.

Hari Grebler: Hi, Janet.

Janet Lansbury: This is such a treat getting to speak with you. As I introduced you, you didn’t hear that part, but you were my introduction to my passion in life. I can’t imagine why it’s taken me so long to have you on the podcast because wow, you are such a wealth of information and inspiration to me, to so many people that you’ve mentored. And thank you, I want to start by saying that.

And I love the work that you’re doing on your Instagram page, which really stands out to me. I mean, it’s interesting, you don’t have a lot of followers yet, but you are the one that’s out there saying really important, unique things. And I don’t find that on a lot of the biggest pages, there’s a sameness. And you are coming in very boldly with this perspective that I think is much needed. So I want to encourage everybody to follow you. And just, thank you. I have loved the content that you’re putting out there and the ideas that you’re sharing.

Hari Grebler: Thank you so much. That’s really sweet. I wanted to say when you were saying that about being bold, I mean, look who our teacher was.

Janet Lansbury: Magda Gerber.

Hari Grebler: So she was very bold.

Janet Lansbury: She was.

Hari Grebler: She said what she thought and we could say what we thought as well.

Janet Lansbury: Right. And she was kind.

Hari Grebler: Yes, she was.

Janet Lansbury: She wasn’t trying to be bold, but she just was because she was fearless.

Hari Grebler: And she really believed. She was the ultimate baby defender. My friends call me that sometimes. They’re like, “Uhoh, watch out! Here comes the baby defender.” Probably happens to you too.

Janet Lansbury: Yeah, but you don’t do it defensively. You do it with such love for babies and care for the people that are taking care of them. Just like with Magda, it’s not that you’re trying to be controversial or abrasive. You’re just saying these truths that people don’t understand, and that will make our lives so much easier as parents when we do understand and embrace some of this perspective.

What I want to talk to you about today is creating a safe space for our children to play in safely and freely, without interruption if possible. And all the benefits of it and how we start this from the time that children are just a few weeks old, that we start creating this space and cultivating this time for them. Do you want to talk about some of the reasons it’s important?

Hari Grebler: I want to say this: When I had my first child, I noticed how much that he played from the very beginning, like in the hospital. And I remember saying that to a friend, a mom, and she said, “God, I never thought to put them down. I wouldn’t have even known if they wanted to play because I never put them down. I didn’t know I could.”

Janet Lansbury: And how did you recognize this? This was before you were introduced to Magda?

Hari Grebler: No, I taught for years and years and years before I had my own children.

Janet Lansbury: That’s right, I forgot that you taught long before you had your own children. Because if we don’t know that’s possible, how are we going to notice it, right? We’re not. I didn’t notice it until I started taking your class and then working with Magda and realizing. Well, actually, I realized the very first time I went to your class with my baby who was three months that, wow, there is so much going on there that I wasn’t giving any space to or allowing to happen with my daughter. With her thoughts, with her interests, her deciding what activities she wanted to do, which were just basically lying there and looking around on her back. But how we don’t know that, right?

Hari Grebler: I mean, I learned and studied. And I think when people come to my class, I just have to remind them that there’s no way they could have known this, because it is so counterculture. What Magda did and what Dr. Pikler did, it just really goes against the grain. So no one should feel like, Oh, I should have known that. Well, why didn’t I see that? Oh, a good mom does this. It’s not true. And I feel like what’s great about our classes is that we talk about not moving into automatic, not just doing what they’re doing and what was done to us and what we see everybody do with babies. That’s what people do, we just kind of do what we see everybody else doing. So I think RIE really helps you step back and notice. And how do you notice? Creating the safe space from the start is what helps you notice.

And also having the permission to put your baby down in a safe, cozy place. And there’s a progression. We don’t put an infant on the floor to play. There’s a progression to that. First, a cozy bassinet where they could play. And then they can move to a crib when they get too big for that. And then after the crib, that’s going to be around three and four months, and they can move to the floor, to a safe space that you create. It starts right from the beginning that we have to start a rhythm.

And that’s the other thing, babies that have grown up this way have this inner life. They discover what they love, they discover themselves, they discover their bodies, like their hand, What can I do with it? And that’s a really big deal, I think.

And I never can explain in my classes how my kids have always, how they wake up and go play, and I’m still asleep. And people sort of think I’m just lucky, but I’m not. I worked hard at that. And you probably had that too. And to this day, my kids are teenagers, they want their time by themselves in the mornings or whenever. The oldest one wants it all the time.

Janet Lansbury: And it’s such a strength to have that capacity for being with yourself, tuning in to who you are. Interestingly, I am also reading a book by Sherry Turkle called Reclaiming Conversation. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it. It’s about technology and how that’s affected children growing up with empathy. And the part that I’m reading is all about nurturing our children’s capacity for solitude. She says this “is one of the most important tasks of childhood, every childhood. It’s the capacity for solitude that allows you to reach out to others and see them as separate and independent. You don’t need them to be anything other than who they are. This means you can listen to them and hear what they have to say. This makes the capacity for solitude essential to the development of empathy.” I really thought that was interesting.

Hari Grebler: I love that, I want to read that.

Janet Lansbury: It’s really worthwhile so far, and this is only the first section. “Solitude is where we learn to trust our imaginations,” she says. “When we let our minds wander, we set our brains free.” And interestingly also, she said, “today young people become anxious if they are alone without a device. They are likely to say they are bored. From the youngest ages they have been diverted by structured play and the shiny objects of digital culture.” So there’s that element to what she’s sharing.

Hari Grebler: Yeah, the bored part, I take issue with all these posts about boredom. So many of them show, like, a field or a lake. Why don’t we just let kids be bored? But we’ve created it. The adults are annoyed by it, right? But we’ve totally created it. It’s just like giving a kid a pacifier and then deciding that, Well, now you don’t have it anymore and I just take it away. And I don’t consider your emotional state, let’s say.

Janet Lansbury: Right, and the dependency, yeah.

Hari Grebler: The boredom thing is all about this… And then it also is about devices later. But before that, even. It starts so early where they don’t have a safe space. The child’s always getting interrupted, let’s say. No, you can’t do that. And no, you can’t do that. They have to move them away. So they can’t really get involved, it’s hard.

Janet Lansbury: Right. Or, Let me stimulate you, like I thought I was supposed to do with my baby. Because again, we don’t know that they can do anything on their own. We don’t know they’re capable of anything.

Hari Grebler: Right. And the stimulation is either talking to them constantly or showing them things or going places. And even going places, to activities, from really early ages. Sometimes people call me and I’m like, I used to have this question on one of my forms a long time ago. And I’d ask them, “Do you take any other classes?” And some of them, at eight months old, were in five classes. And I just said, “Could you wait and take my class when you don’t have so many classes?” So kids, they don’t have a chance to play free and safely, and they have a lot of activities. And then one day they wake up and they’re saying, “What are we doing today?” And it annoys everybody. “I’m bored. I’m bored.” Because they’ve gone to all these classes that have activities, not just gone and played outside or gone to the park to play, right? But they’ve gone places where there’s everything there and like you said, stimulation.

Janet Lansbury: And they’re just reacting and responding to it instead of creating it. Yeah.

Hari Grebler: It’s not fair to the kid. And also there’s a lot of kids that don’t have a yard. A lot of kids can’t go outside and all that. And I think that’s another reason why it’s crucial to set up a really great space for them to have for themselves. Some kind of playroom or playspace, if you have the space.

Janet Lansbury: Absolutely. And something interesting about this too is this idea of tuning into yourself and being with yourself and comfort with yourself. Studies show, and Magda knew this a long time ago, that it’s nurtured by not just leaving your child alone. It’s not about being alone, solitude could be with people. But it’s being allowed to be in yourself, in your own thoughts. And that it’s actually nurtured through this relationship of just what Magda said, the “wants nothing quality time.” Where I’m with you in your play space, and I am just observing, learning all this stuff about you and discovering you. And you’re knowing that you can flex your imagination and be yourself completely, with not losing my attention, with not losing me, my presence. And that’s actually how you nurture it, and that’s how it’s different than loneliness. Healthy solitude is a feeling of joy.

Hari Grebler: And the adult witnessing their babies playing independently can bring so much joy to the adult. And the knowledge of what their child likes, how long they play, are they tired. The other thing is you’re going to know their cry, you’re going to know what that means. And a lot of parents that I talk to, they don’t know that. And I feel like one of the ways to get to know your baby is exactly what we’re talking about, is creating this space. And where we coexist in that space or beside or close by or we have things to do. And sometimes we’re there, really just focused on them. But sometimes we’re just in that same area, let’s say. I mean, I remember as a parent, I’m doing some things, sometimes I would bring laundry in. Sometimes I was also getting things done, and there were times where I was just sitting.

But the simplicity of it is that you get to see so many signs, like when are they tired? And you don’t have to wait until they’re yawning and rubbing their eyes. After a while, you actually really know that they’re tired. They’re playing, playing, playing, and all of a sudden things aren’t just going their way so perfectly, right? Because people are looking more for that physical sign, a yawn or like I said, rubbing the eyes. But it’ll be more subtle. Did you experience that too?

Janet Lansbury: Yes. Because I didn’t like what you said about we don’t understand their cries. That was totally me with Charlotte, my first baby, that I brought to your class. That was another area where I felt, I am a terrible parent because I don’t know what these cries are. All I know is that I want them to stop right now, immediately, and they’re ear-splitting and they’re making me feel terrible. So it was very much my problem. Her feelings were my problem to fix, instead of really something that I could learn about her. And so it took actually a lot of time, because she was my first, it took time in your classes and learning about Magda’s work to be able to calm myself enough to start to see and discern.

But it was helped along by being able to observe her with all these other subtle things she was doing in your class, and see that she had thoughts, that she was nuanced, that she wasn’t just this one-note, simplified being. That she had all these levels and different things going on with her that were fascinating. So it’s about seeing them as this full human being, a person that’s not just a needy thing that we have to fix.

Hari Grebler: And I like what you said. You say, calm yourself, and I always say, get quiet inside. For me, automatically, just being with the babies, I just empty out. I don’t know, it’s just a thing. It’s always happened for me. I’m just right there, right present. I think that’s partly why I do what I do.

Janet Lansbury: I think it’s a practice though, that you, probably, because I do that too now.

Hari Grebler: Yeah, but I did that. I was always like, it just helped me. Well, before I started teaching, I taught nursery school, so I already had this experience with kids. And that’s what I loved about it, I always felt very present because you know me— personally, I’m not that quiet, I’m not that calm. I’m pretty impatient, I’m pretty hotheaded. Right?

Janet Lansbury: I guess. You’re not a picture of serene, no.

Hari Grebler: No. And nor was Magda. It just wasn’t like that. I mean, we are who we are, and that’s fine. And my kids know me, they do. But when they’re little babies, it’s so important to set ourselves aside, to quiet ourselves down. And like you said, calm ourselves. It really is. Or we won’t know anything about them otherwise.

Janet Lansbury: And we’ll get stuck doing a bunch of things that aren’t helping.

Hari Grebler: And nobody feels good. They’re just going through the motions. I had a funny experience with my son. I noticed he would suck two fingers on one hand and then two fingers on the other hand. Same two fingers, but some right, some left. And one day he sucked, I don’t know, it was either the right or the left, and I thought, Oh, he’s tired and I’m going to nurse him. Because he’s going to go to sleep and he might get hungry. It’s not really his nursing time, but I’m just going to do that. So I went into the bedroom, went to nurse him, and he moved off, pulled off and put his other hands in his mouth and leaned back to go into the crib.

Janet Lansbury: Wow.

Hari Grebler: And then he went to bed. And I called my mom and said, Is that even possible? And he did that a lot. And it really taught me, I can’t work on automatic. I used to call him the all-knowing head, you know what I mean?

Janet Lansbury: Yes.

Hari Grebler: Because he can’t move his limbs so much, but he could go, like, Get me in the crib! with his head. He did. So bizarre. Anyway.

Janet Lansbury: Wow. And that was something unique to him, that your daughter—

Hari Grebler: Oh, yeah. She did not do that.

Janet Lansbury: Your daughter didn’t do the exact same thing.

Hari Grebler: Yeah, she did other things. Yeah, they were totally night and day. But I got to witness that because of what I learned and how I could be in that moment and how he became more important, at times in the day, than me.

Janet Lansbury: Yeah. I would notice with my second that, when you were saying they get tired in the play space, that’s normal. And they start to whine a little or fuss and tell you that they’re tired or they’re just showing you those signs, those early signs, which hopefully we get, like they’re kind of spacing out all of a sudden or whatever. But what Madeline would do was fall asleep in the play space, if I didn’t catch it very, very early. Especially if it was at my little outdoor play space that I had, she would fall asleep. But it just looked so blissful to me.

Hari Grebler: Heaven.

Janet Lansbury: It was like falling asleep on the beach when you’re lying out, having a good time, and you just fall asleep.

And so I tried to take a movie of her going to sleep because she would do it also in her bassinet. She would turn her head sort of from side to side. She was not expressing any discomfort, but to my previous lens, it would’ve looked like, I better put her to sleep now. She’s turning her head, and maybe that’s not good for her, or something. But she was calming herself. And I tried to get it on video, and every single time I tried, she would outlast the battery of the video in how long she went. She would just keep going. And again, she wasn’t stressed out at all or showing anything like that, but it just would take her longer. And I finally thought, okay, this is too private a moment. I’m not supposed to capture this, so forget it. I’m just not going to try. Because she would always outlast me in her process.

Hari Grebler: I love that because that’s what they want to do: enjoy their process, if we could just give them opportunities. And I feel like that gets so misconstrued out there. I did an Instagram about it and I said, what if we did give them these little micro-opportunities to fall asleep when they were ready? To play first, but not meaning that we have to let them cry or be alone.

Janet Lansbury: Right. You’re opening up space for what they actually want to do.

Hari Grebler: Yeah. What they can do. Can I give you one example of that?

Janet Lansbury: Yes, please. Because I honestly think that all of this has to do with the play space. Learning to observe and just allow our child to be who they are and how that helps everything. It helps their sleep, it helps their learning for sure. It helps their imagination, helps them develop this sense of self and ability to be alone with themselves and all of those things. So this is just another thing, but yeah, tell the story.

Hari Grebler: So when we came home with our baby, I thought to myself, wow, our baby, he’s heard Shlomo and I talking all these nine months. They hear you, we talk so much. And I thought, let’s put him in the bassinet. And we did, we put him in the bassinet. And then I invited Shlomo, here’s a chair, and I laid on the bed, and we just chatted. And within the chatting, he just sort of played. And then he got tired and fell asleep. And I didn’t do it to make him sleep or to get him tired or anything like that, but I just thought we could just be together like this. He could be there, we could be here, he can hear us. And then I feel like from that moment, he loved to play with that around him, us talking or people in the room, but not focused on him. I don’t know if you remember falling asleep in the car and people are still talking, when you’re little.

Janet Lansbury: Oh yes, I used to love that. Or in the house just relaxing and sleeping and you hear the voices. Or my parents would be having a party, a gathering, and you’re kind of like, Ahhh.

Hari Grebler: Exactly. And I call it a micro-moment. There could be so many of those because it’s a process. It’s not like, “Oh, does your baby sleep through the night?” No, it’s not that. It’s discovering what it is together and not alone.

Janet Lansbury: And being open. Being open to your baby’s abilities that they’re showing you, not what you’re trying to make them do.

Hari Grebler: Yeah. I feel like so many things have gotten, they took the fun and the beauty out of them. So sleep is a sound machine, a blackout curtain. It’s at a certain time, a certain way, or it’s being held or being wrapped. Even that, right? Even both extremes are still these automatics, to me. And all I’m asking is, just give a little micro-moment in between these things. And Magda didn’t really talk about that. It was something I sort of discovered, just about us talking and him being there and feeling comforted by our voices and our presence. But it doesn’t also mean that I have to be holding him all the time for him to feel secure.

Janet Lansbury: Right.

Hari Grebler: Hearing the sounds of the home is comforting. That’s what I’m saying about taking the beauty out of sleep. Let’s make it so quiet. Let’s put this sound on. Let’s make it so dark. Wrap them this way. Let’s wrap them that way.

Janet Lansbury: Right, it’s a totally adult-directed process that’s just a chore. It’s just another chore that we have to do in the day.

Hari Grebler: And they can watch me wash the dishes from their bed. They can hear us talking. They can hear a party or whatever it is. So anyway, that’s just my little rant, my micro-rant.

Janet Lansbury: Well, I wrote down here something that you said about observation. Well, first of all, I love this comment that you make, I guess it’s one of your central quotes that’s very Hari and I love it: “Babies are worth getting to know.” I love that. And then you say in another post, I think it is: “To observe. Clear your head, step into the present. What can my baby do? What does my baby want to do? Can I detach and sit simply? It is a practice that we all can learn.”

So I think we’ve talked a lot about the beauty of the space, why it’s so worth doing. What do we do? How do we make the space?

Hari Grebler: Because you saw that post of the safe space, I got a question, a really good question. What to do with the baby before the play area? At what age do we start this play space and what should they do before? And that’s such a good question. Then I just wrote back, there’s a progression of the play area. The first play area would be the bassinet because it’s warm, it’s cozy, it’s inviting, and it holds the baby. They can only last so long in a bassinet, and then I would move them to a crib with a firm mattress. The baby should never be on a cushy kind of sunken-in thing, although it looks nice.

Janet Lansbury: No, definitely not.

Hari Grebler: It’s hard for them to move. So then it would be the crib. And then there could be a playpen or, around three to four months, when they start being interested in the world and other objects, that’s when I would have them come down to the floor. And the floor space evolves as their capabilities grow. The rule of thumb is they always need a bit more space than they might actually use. And we do that so they can be inspired. Inspired to move a little farther, inspired to go get that over there.

And it’s always better if a small space gets bigger than taking a big space and making it smaller for the baby. So if a child has already crawled all over the house, it’s harder to then make a smaller space. Not impossible, but just more difficult. So that’s the progression of the physical part of the space.

And you can take a piece of your living room, a bedroom. I personally took my living room/dining room. We have a little, little house, but that was one room. And I was able to gate my kitchen. That’s something real crucial in RIE, but a lot of people don’t want to do it. Magda used to talk a lot about gating the kitchen. Well, why would we gate the kitchen? Well, there’s accidents that happen, but also so we can go and do something fully and focus on. So when we go in the kitchen, we can cook. We don’t have to, Oh, there’s someone over here or rolling over here, or I’m worried about that and I have to tell them what to do. And it’s not like they can never come into the kitchen, when you have time to show them around. So I love the gated kitchen. I really think that helps.

The reason I did my dining room/living room, I wanted it to be like a family room/playroom kind of place where we gather. I could be on the couch and my children could be playing. And my room changed more than 50 times. I mean, that’s how much I’m about the kid. I’m not saying people should do this or everybody should. I’m saying this is what I did because I’m a total nerd in that way. I really wanted to put all this into practice, because I had been doing it for so long. I wanted the space, I wanted them to be able to crawl and do all the things that they did and I wanted to watch and I wanted to be comfortable.

Janet Lansbury: So what if people aren’t able to gate off their kitchen, which a lot of houses, unfortunately, that is difficult. I mean, I was able to gate off our kitchen and have a gated-in space, but I had to have these bookcases, very heavy, like standup bookcases, that I attached a gate to, and I had to form a space within this bigger space in my family room. Probably you would know how to do all this better than I did, but it worked for us.

Hari Grebler: That sounds perfect.

Janet Lansbury: Yeah. And so interesting, it remained the place—way after the gates were gone and all that—that remained the place where the child wanted to be playing or reading or whatever. They really bond with their—actually, I think it’s bonding with themselves, but within the comfort and familiarity of those spaces.

Hari Grebler: Yeah. I mean, my kids loved their room and I really let them do anything they wanted, practically. I think what you did was perfect. And that’s what I always say. If it’s a big space and you can create it like a little room within a room. Outside, we did it once with a gate to the couch. I didn’t want them when they were really tiny to get into the small flower garden I had. So I had a couch and then I gated that from there. So there’s so many creative ways to do it.

Janet Lansbury: But you agree, I’m sure, with Magda that establishing those parameters are important before the child’s able to move through them. Because then that’s just part of their play space. People say, Oh, it’s a jail and stuff. It is if you treat it that way and like, Okay, now I’m going to put you in this place while I go do something. Instead of, This is part of our routine. Every day after we do this, this is the time that you usually spend in there. I mean, it doesn’t have to be every day, but most days this is what we do. And as Magda said, a matter of course, it’s just a matter of course. And you still might not like when I leave and go do something, but you know underneath it that you’re not being abandoned, you’re not being punished. This is your space and it’s freedom for you, actually. And then children do, I mean, I’ve seen that with my own eyes that children totally believe that.

Hari Grebler: Definitely. When I was in Hungary, when I went to the Loczy to visit, when it was the orphanage, I had studied for I think about 10 years before I went there, and then I went there and studied. What I noticed was the way we learned about doing the caregiving and being fully present for the caregiving, for babies, the more the same it is, this is how they don’t get bored. How they really have that inner life and count on it. I have to say, even in the morning, if I get up and my daughter’s up, she’s just like, “I need to be alone.” You know, if it’s too early. She needs that thinking time.

Janet Lansbury: She’s how old now?

Hari Grebler: Thirteen. She’s not happy to see me. She’s happy to see me other times. But in the morning, they’re really used to having space in the morning. And why it is is because we had a rhythm, a very, very strong rhythm. And that was: you wake up, you care for them, you change their diapers, maybe get them dressed or maybe not, feed them, nurse them. And then you’ve given them so much, and this is what I saw in Hungary, which is by the end of that caregiving, they don’t want you to talk to them anymore. Those babies, they’ll look away, they’ll put their fingers in their mouth, whatever. It’s like, Okay, I’ve got everything I need and now I go to the floor to play.

And then what I saw is when they pick up those toys, and I know you’ve seen it too, is they really see what they’re looking at. They look at the object the way they were just looked at, if that makes sense. And it was beautiful. I was just so blown away by that. And understanding what it means to be filled up, to then be able and have the desire to do what you want to do.

And I think I must’ve learned it in Waldorf, this idea of breathing in and breathing out. The breathing in being the caregiving thing where you’re asking them and telling them and expecting cooperation. And then it’s this, Ahhh. I go down to play. No one’s talking to me. I can play with this or that and any way I want to. And no one’s going to interrupt me. So there’s a balance to what we’re talking about. One cannot happen without the other. Independent play and wanting to be in your play space can’t happen if you don’t feel filled up.

Janet Lansbury: Yes. And I was also thinking when you were saying that, as slow as we try to maybe aim to be with the caregiving time and talking to them and listening to them and having that be a mutual experience, when they get to play, time goes even slower. When we’re alone in our thoughts, that’s when we can really slow down to our pace and commune with that. I mean, I crave that. I’ve started doing where I don’t go on my phone until after I’ve done this whole bunch of things in the morning where I’m just on my own in my thoughts. I’m kind of doing things and then I meditate. But I’ve put off just looking at my phone right away because I need more of that time, with the work that I’m doing right now, to get ideas, to have more space. I mean, I really couldn’t get enough of that, personally. Really, I want to go to the phone. I want to go to the distraction like anybody else, but I’m just doing that for myself, to fuel myself.

Hari Grebler: I think that is exactly what happens when we create this space for the baby. We give it to ourselves. It’s a gift as a parent that you give yourself. Here, I gave you everything during this time I was just with you, and now it’s your time to do this and my time to do this. And when they can know and expect, because you do it the same every time. That’s why I think that’s so important. I mean, I don’t want it to sound like, Oh, I can’t ever deviate, because of course you can. That’s life. But when they’re little, it pays for both, for the child and the adult. It’s a gift for both. Oh, I can go into the kitchen by myself to make something, right? I can take a shower because I know they’re completely safe and content.

And sometimes people say, Oh, they don’t want to be in there anymore. They don’t want to be in there anymore. You have to commit to the space. That’s really important. You have to commit. And that means when they’re needing you more, let’s say, go be with them. Go be with them, but don’t bring them out of the space. So that’s the mistake people make. They don’t want to be in there. I take you in my arms, I take you into the kitchen. I cook, I’m stirring. It’s interesting. You like being up. And then when I put you back in your space, it’s not as satisfying anymore.

Janet Lansbury: And even if we’re in the space with them and they’re kind of struggling, first maybe seeing, just while I’m sitting here, I’m going to hold you in my lap. Instead of, okay, we’re getting up. Every time there’s something wrong, now you’re getting lifted up and changed.

Hari Grebler: Or sat up.

Janet Lansbury: Yeah.

Hari Grebler: That’s what a lot of people… they start getting fussy in their place, and when you do that, you sit them up, you can get maybe 15 more minutes of play. But usually they’re just tired, if they’re used to this. That’s what I was trying to say before. If you don’t do all the things and you commit to this simplicity, it’s sort of raw because it’s just you and them, right? There’s not a swing or a this or a that to fall back on, in a way. You can even lie down in their space. They can even crawl over you on those times.

Janet Lansbury: Oh, I do that. Yeah.

Hari Grebler: Right. It’s fun, you can get your little massage.

Janet Lansbury: What you were saying about setting it up for ourselves… It may seem like this is such a chore or I’m being so giving, having this connected caregiving time, but this is what’s going to empower us, empower our child to be able to be separate. And then yeah, when they’re expressing things, I mean, this encouraged me to leave my fix-it mode that I was in with my first. I want to find out what they’re expressing. I don’t want to just try to change it. I want to know what’s going on here. And that takes a little longer and takes us not making those rash moves to just pick them up and rescue them out of the situation or whatever.

Hari Grebler: And when you really come down to it, there’s not that many things that the baby could be bothered by. They could be hungry, they could be tired. And you’re going to start to see what that tired means to your baby. Hungry, you’ll think, oh, I fed them. And yeah, they probably are, let’s see. Or maybe they want their diaper changed, they’re not comfortable. Or their clothes aren’t comfortable, even. Sometimes it’s bunched up and that could bother them. So you can always check those things. And then things get more simple. Kids are able to eventually let you know what’s bothering them.

Janet Lansbury: Because they know you want to know and they understand that’s your interest because it is.

Hari Grebler: Yeah, they’re valued in that way. And a lot of people say, Oh, well they’re just getting bored now. And no, I don’t accept that. I just don’t. That’s an adult idea. So then you do all these other things, and then that’s the way we create them needing to be set. Because once you start sitting your baby up, they’re not satisfied anymore laying down. It doesn’t take that much, too, for that to happen.

Janet Lansbury: But just so people know, and I know you know this, you can change anything. If you’re aware of what you’ve done and what it’s caused and what’s going on and you want to change it. Maybe you don’t want to change it, that’s fine. But if you want to, all you have to do is understand that they’re going to express, Hey, why aren’t you doing that thing anymore? And they have a right to. Try to welcome that.

And I always admit, or encourage the parent to admit, Yeah, I was sitting you up and you’re used to that. You’re probably wishing I would do that right now. But I realized this is healthier for you. So you can tell me how much you wish I was doing that and how mad you are at me. That’s okay with me. I always want to know how you feel. That kind of attitude. You don’t have to say all those words, but that welcoming and honesty about, Yeah, of course, not just, Oh, shh. It’s okay. I’m not doing this anymore and now we’re going to do this. Really owning it, because otherwise they feel almost gaslit.

Hari Grebler: Yeah. I want to add to that, too. So if I was going to change a habit, and I do believe wherever you step into these ideas is the perfect place, just like you said. You can change, it’s not like a make it or break it situation. But if I did do something like sat them and then I decided to not sit them because I learned, I would start out like that, on the back, let’s say. But if the baby got too upset, I would also not stay in that. I don’t want them to get too upset at first. But I would always start like that. So then the next time I would start again like that on the back, I would start again and again and again. And leave a little bit more time and a little bit more time.

Janet Lansbury: While you’re communicating with them. And then picking them up and holding them in your lap and not just swooping them up.

Hari Grebler: Yeah, all the things you said. I just want to add that I would do it little by little. So if I was going to change something about sleep, let’s say. I would start out the way I would like it to go, but they were used to something else. Okay, we do that something else, but start out first the way I want it to go. Little by little, longer and longer, for them to get used to it without them having to be too upset about it.

Janet Lansbury: Yeah.

Hari Grebler: Because we did it. It’s just like, okay, I’m a cigarette smoker, let’s say. I’m not, but let’s say, and then somebody just takes it from me and they decide I’m never going to have one again. And they decide how it’s going to go.

Janet Lansbury: It’s like the boredom thing, yeah. Okay, now you’re going to be bored.

Hari Grebler: You need to collaborate with me now a little bit. I need a little collaboration, a plan, how this is going to change. I can’t just change on the spot because you who gave me the cigarettes in the first place are now going to take them away. No, it’s not fair.

Janet Lansbury: Yeah, I feel like it’s more, and maybe this is what you’re saying, but with sleep especially, I feel like it’s more being aware of where I want this to go. Because maybe in the beginning it’s just easier for me to do it this way, but I’ve always got my eye out: This is how I want sleep to go, because this is what I need and what we’ve decided for our family, and this is what I would like to happen. And so I’m going to keep being open to that direction, but not necessarily trying to even take a step there in the beginning if I’m not ready and I don’t feel like my baby’s ready. So it’s not like I have to start doing incremental things, but just knowing. And being open to what my baby can do, which that observation in the play space, again, teaches us.

I also just wanted to comment, you had talked a long time ago, wonderfully, about the physical thing of setting up the play space from the time that they’re infants and how that starts in the bassinet. And I would say also, especially based on my own experience, Charlotte, she first played in your amazing class that changed my life. My younger ones, I had to be open to them being able to do this, entertain themselves, and notice when it happened. Like you said in the hospital with your boy. In the bassinet one time, I came and she was waking up and she wasn’t looking towards me or anything, so I didn’t say, “Hi, time to get up!” She was looking to the side and I just let her look and was careful not to say anything, because I was holding space for this to happen. And with my son, it happened on the changing table, that we were going through it and I was helping him. And then all of a sudden he sort of looked off and he was just doing something, thinking something. And I let it go on for a while because I didn’t have to rush and be somewhere anyway, but I thought, Oh my gosh. So we want to notice those, so we can encourage them. It’s so easy to squash it all and not let it happen.

Hari Grebler: That’s called collaboration.

Janet Lansbury: Yes.

Hari Grebler: I’m doing something that needs to get done, but you’re interested over there. So I’m going to stop for a minute and be interested with you. It’s beautiful. Sometimes I’ll do snack, and you’ve done it a million times, and everybody’s looking at something else. And I don’t say, “Here, well, doesn’t anybody want some? Oh, here I am with the banana.” I look at what they’re looking at. We can all be so interested in it. It’s such a beautiful moment that it doesn’t need to be filled. And that is a collaboration.

Janet Lansbury: Right. And it’s also noticing that play happens all the time, if we want to call that play. It’s happening anytime.

Hari Grebler: It’s true. Yeah.

Janet Lansbury: So I also wanted to share, this is another one of your posts on Instagram. You say: “What do I mean, don’t introduce your child to boredom?” This is what you were talking earlier about boredom, I guess, and these are the ideas that you shared. It’s all about what we’re talking about today. “Let life unfold slowly and naturally. Don’t think you have to entertain them. Do age-appropriate outings, once in a while. There’s no rush to show them all the things. Let them notice and you can notice what they notice. Give them time to have their own thoughts. Give them plenty of time to putter around.” And then you say, “It’s unnecessary to rotate toys. It’s okay to bring a new one in here and there. It’s more a matter of providing open-ended.” There you go. That’s great advice right there.

Hari Grebler: Yeah, thanks. It sounded good how you read it. You read it too nicely. I’m like, I’m so intrigued.

Janet Lansbury: Who is that genius?

Hari Grebler: I know! Who wrote that? It’s just so nice, you know? I want people to see how sweet this is and simple it is.

Janet Lansbury: Yes. All this sort of simple wisdom that helps our children, helps us. And we only did the tip of the iceberg in terms of all the benefits of this. I really hope people will follow your Instagram page and your website, which is Hari’s RIE Studio, harisriestudio.com, and you can discover all the resources that Hari has to offer and be eye-opened by her perspective, which is just very sharp and unique. I don’t know, I think it’s a breath of fresh air personally, and I love it. So keep it up.

Hari Grebler: Okay! Thanks, Janet. This was really fun.

Janet Lansbury: This was really fun. Thank you so much.

Hari Grebler: Thanks for asking me.

Janet Lansbury: Bye.

For more on play, there are a ton of resources on infant play and toddler play on my website, janetlansbury.com. So please check those out under the topic category “Play.”

Thanks so much for listening. We can do this.


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Wow! This is fantastic—two of my favorite people in conversation on a favorite topic. The depth of what “wants nothing quality time” can become. The importance of this simple practice. The power of solitude. I love how Hari describes this practice—being with babies. It is one of the most beautiful meditations I’ve ever experienced. AND falling asleep in the play space – YES! Hari and her husband just talking in her son’s presence and allowing him to fall asleep. No agenda, just discovering what rest can be in different contexts. Thank you, Janet and Hari.

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