Jessica Rolph is joined by Veronica Fernandez, who talks about how she takes advice from various parenting approaches and incorporates the best from each. Veronica discusses philosophies such as Montessori, RIE, and attachment parenting. She also shares with us ways to introduce bilingualism to babies and the benefits of it.
Dr. Veronica Fernandez is a new mom, with a Ph.D. in Developmental and Child Psychology, with a focus on bilingual education.
[1:35] Veronica shares her journey from preschool to Ph.D.
[3:38] How to incorporate different philosophies in parenting your baby.
[5:23] Veronica shares how she used the Montessori philosophy to create a prepared environment for her newborn baby.
[6:19] The essence of the Montessori approach.
[8:33] The Montessori approach characterizes by giving children the chance of manipulating materials such as glass.
[9:38] The RIE Method is about respectful parenting.
[13:45] Being in physical proximity to a child is always beneficial.
[14:11] What does not resonate with Veronica about Attachment parenting?
[17:19] When the focus is on playing and interaction, the opportunities for teaching will show up spontaneously.
[18:56] Be present and playful in your interactions with children
[19:13] Introducing a second language to babies
[20:05] Children learn more by exposure than to intentional teaching.
[21:58] The benefits of bilingualism.
Attachment parenting, the RIE method, Montessori, Waldorf… so many philosophies out there!
How do we navigate them all? Do we choose one and run with it? Or cherry pick the very best advice from each one — a task that seems overwhelming, especially for a new parent.
One new mom with a PhD in Developmental and Child Psychology reached out to me as a Lovevery customer. Her perspective is so refreshing, I’ve invited her onto the podcast.
Dr. Veronica Fernandez is a researcher of bilingual education as well, yet another parenting choice to explore.
Hi, Veronica. It is so fun to be with you today. I can’t believe we met over a DM on Instagram.
Veronica: Yeah, our modern world. [chuckle]
Jessica: Yes. So I wanted to talk to you a little bit more about… We had a first conversation and I just was thinking it would be so fun for just so many parents to hear about your perspectives. You’ve got so much wisdom to share. Your own early childhood really paved the way for the work that you do now. Can you tell me a little bit about how you talk about from preschool to PhD?
Veronica: Sure. So when I’m in-person giving seminars or workshops I always joke and I say that I have 36 years of early childhood experience, and people look at me kind of funny and wonder how old I am, but I’m actually 36. And the reason I say that is because I was in pre-school as a pre-schooler experiencing the environment, and as soon as I graduated and I started kindergarten, my mom opened a pre-school of her own, and she in fact had two centers at one point and then eventually expanded and consolidated into one larger center. We actually had license for over 200 children within that center, so it was a pretty large center.
Veronica: Yeah. So I worked with her there after school, always on spring breaks, I helped her run the camps. And then when I went off to college I studied Education and Psychology, went back and I worked there as a teacher in the classroom for a long time, then I was helping as a Pedagogical Director, which is just a fancy term I gave myself for being a curriculum specialist, helping to support the teachers and trainings and became involved in advocacy work, and the more I realized that I wanted to go back to school to get a graduate degree.
Veronica: And then I went to the University of Miami and I got a Master’s embedded within a PhD program in Developmental Psychology. And I’m still engaged in the work, conduct research, in the community and nationally, around quality and interactions, and I’m very involved in the practice world, trainings for teachers and for families and so forth.
Jessica: And then, through all of this, you had a baby of your own. How old is your baby now?
Veronica: And then I had a baby, which is the greatest, greatest role I’ve ever had. She’s 13 months right now, her name is Isla and she is an absolute blast.
Types of parenting philosophies
Jessica: Aw, so fun. Well, you’ve experimented with Isla with different methods. There’s the RIE method, there’s Montessori, and there’s some other even other philosophies like Waldorf, that are really popular right now, they’re becoming popular. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ve… How you’ve thought about each of these philosophies and incorporated them into your parenting with Isla?
Veronica: Sure. So one thing that I would say is that I think families seem to feel like if they know about a philosophy or they learn about a philosophy, that they have to subscribe strictly to a philosophy or approach and just do everything scripted the way that the philosophy demands, I guess. And I think that adds a lot of stress to family life. I have the luxury of understanding so many of these philosophies broadly, but I don’t think it’s necessary to be a good parent, whatever your definition of a good parent is. [chuckle]
Veronica: So I think we have to do what works for our families and our cultures and our background, our income, our space, and kinda have permission to do that. So my own approach has been more of an eclectic one. I can’t say that I subscribe to any one philosophy very strictly. I do engage in attachment parenting with Isla, which essentially just means that I’m responsive to her. I read her cues and I follow her lead very much, but I’m still the adult in our relationship and I make a lot of the decisions that… for her environment and what she engages in. I also have subscribed to some extent to the Montessori philosophy.
Veronica: One thing that I really like about Montessori is the concept of a prepared environment and being intentional about the materials we choose and we use. And I think that that’s what brought me to Lovevery as a customer. Isla was actually subscribed before she was even born. I didn’t know if she was going to be a girl or a boy, and that didn’t even matter.
Veronica: I was looking for tools and resources and something that was going to simplify the task that I knew was going to be really, really challenging, of parenting. So I knew that I wanted to bring some Montessori into our environment, and even with as much experience I have as a “early childhood expert”, I didn’t even know where to begin in terms of resources and the materials to have in our environment. So having tools that were pre-thought out for me, I found to be very helpful.
Jessica: And so tell me a little bit more about like what is the… Let’s just go through each philosophy that you know about, ’cause we had talked about Montessori when we spoke earlier. What are the ways that you feel like you really incorporate Montessori, and then are there any ways that you think that the philosophy doesn’t work for you and Isla?
Veronica: Sure. So I will say that I’m not trained as a Montessori teacher, so I don’t know every intricacy of the approach. I understand it from just the philosophical background, what we learned through our PhD program. So I understand that it’s very much centered around the child having hands-on experiences, the child being the leader of the interaction. One thing that I really like about the Montessori approach is the prepared environment. I think it’s really important for materials to be organized in a way that children understand what they’re supposed to do with the materials.
Veronica: I also think that being intentional about the materials that we choose and put out for our children are important, and that those materials are aligned with where they are developmentally. Montessori is very big on observing the child, taking a step back, understanding where they are, looking for their skills, trying to understand where they are developmentally so that we can present materials that they’re ready for, and that they can engage in appropriately. And I really appreciate that, in terms of Montessori.
Veronica: Personally, one thing about the Montessori philosophy that I would say doesn’t align with my own personal approach to parenting, is this ultimate goal for independence. I’m not saying that I want Isla to be dependent on me forever, but I will say that when I’m setting things out for her I’m preparing her environment or I’m interacting with her, my ultimate goal, the goal that’s at the front of my mind is not, “Okay, let me make Isla independent.” It’s more about, “Let me… I want to facilitate joy. I want her to play, I want her to have materials that are developmentally appropriate for her,” but I would say that I’m not constantly thinking about independence as being what I want to foster for her.
Jessica: Yeah. It’s so hard when they’re little. It’s a really big expectation, and I think that a lot of parents who don’t have a very specific focus on having their child “learn” how to do independent play, still end up with very… Children who are four, five, six who can play independently very well. And so I think that it’s, what’s probably overarching in this conversation is the age of the child, and their ability to be able to be by themselves and enjoy an experience.
Veronica: Absolutely. And I think that sometimes families feel pressure, right? So, Montessori is big on giving children real materials, for example, starting children off with glass. That’s just not something that I’m comfortable with as a parent. And I am okay making decisions that maybe don’t necessary align with a philosophy, and doing things that work for my family. So I personally just choose not to give her glass because… I understand the importance of natural consequences but I don’t want to risk her getting hurt, I don’t want the glass to break. We love to walk around in our home barefoot and I don’t want to worry about stepping on glass or what have you.
Veronica: So it’s just a decision that I’ve made personally where I can disentangle, “Okay, well this is what’s recommended within this philosophy that I like and I subscribe to to an extent, but there’s this one aspect of it that I’m not going to necessarily put into practice in our home. Yet.” And again, that goes back to what you just said about the age of the child. Of course, I’m going to eventually transition and have Isla use real materials, but for now I’m not ready. [chuckle] It’s not even about Isla being ready or not.
Jessica: So tell me about the RIE method. Can you explain for people who haven’t heard of it, what, in your mind, what it is and how you’ve incorporated it into your life with Isla?
Veronica: The RIE method is really about respectful parenting, and I really like that aspect of it. We respect children as capable, and we respect children’s space and we respect their abilities to make decisions and to make choices.
Veronica: Something else about the RIE method that I really like, is this notion of creating a “yes space” for children. And I know that sounds a little funny, but little kids hear “no” a lot. And it’s inevitable as parents. I’m all about positive behavioral supports, but I say “no”. [chuckle] And that’s okay as a parent, having that permission, that there are times when saying “no” is the less cognitively taxing thing to say in that moment, especially if the child is in danger, this long explanation about “why” can come later, but sometimes a clear “no” is just an indication of a child having to stop what they’re currently doing so that they don’t get hurt.
Veronica: But in RIE they suggest that you set up a space that’s called a “yes space” which essentially is a place where anything goes, right?
Veronica: So a lot of times we don’t want children to put certain things in their mouths, but in their “yes space”, everything that they have there can be mouthed, especially when children are very young. They can play with the materials in creative ways and not something that’s very specific in how they have to engage with materials. It’s a place that’s kind of away from other distractions and dangers so that the child can engage in play that’s more autonomous. And I really like that concept and I’ve set up a “yes space” for Isla in our home as well.
Veronica: RIE is very much about, put the baby down, give them free space, and allow them to sort of move and explore on their own. There are times in the baby’s day where the adult caregiver is very engaged in the child. So for example, when you’re changing a diaper, that’s a time of intimacy and deep engagement with the child. You shouldn’t be paying attention to anything else. It’s the time to talk with the child, to let them know before you pick them up coming down at their level, connect with them before you pick up the child and say, “I’m going to change your diaper now,” as to not startle the child before you pick them up, take them to the changing table.
Veronica: “I’m laying you down. I’m taking off your wet diaper,” explaining everything that’s happening to them. There’s that narration, there’s that rich language, there’s the eye contact and smiling, there’s gentle hands and slow, just being present. And I absolutely love that because there’s a distinction sort of when a caregiver is expected to be on and some permission for the caregiver to say, “Okay, and now you put the baby down and you have the time to do other things.”
Veronica: If you are in a group care setting, now you can go and change another child’s diaper, and that one child that you’ve put down has had that experience and those interactions, whereas sometimes parents or caregivers that are in group care settings or teachers, feel like they need to attend to every child all the time, and then they’re not really fully engaging with a particular child.
Veronica: However, I also know that every child is not the same, and children come to us with their own temperaments, and not every child is going to respond well to being put down and not being interacted with for an extended period of time. And I actually think from, I think I lean a little bit more toward attachment parenting, where I don’t think it’s necessary to foster that independence in a child at such a young age.
Veronica: I think it’s okay and actually beneficial. And the research would suggest it’s beneficial to wear your baby, hold your baby. I’m very much from the camp of, you can’t spoil an infant. Touch, just physical touch and love and connection, physically being in proximity to a child is beneficial, and the research backs that up as well. So I wouldn’t say that I’m fully on board with RIE, in that there’s this push to put the baby down, let them be independent and autonomous.
Jessica: Can you tell me more about the attachment parenting, and how you have incorporated attachment parenting? Is there anything about attachment parenting that hasn’t resonated as much with you and Isla?
Veronica: So I would say that attachment parenting is just a philosophy of parenting that’s very much about the reciprocal relationship between the caregiver and baby. So it’s about bonding. It’s about being close to the baby. It’s about being responsive when the baby cries, and interpreting cries as the baby’s means for communication, not just a frivolous exercising of their lungs. [chuckle] So it’s about that balance, it’s about consistency, it’s about the baby knowing what to expect from their caregiver and being warm and responsive.
Veronica: That doesn’t mean that there’s never a moment where the baby is crying and you’re in the middle of another task, you don’t have to run out of the shower with shampoo in your hair because your baby woke up from a nap. It’s okay to get tasks done when you have a newborn and an infant in the house. And there are still ways of being responsive to your child.
Veronica: So for example, if I’m in the kitchen and Isla was a newborn and she’s kind of starting to fuss or call out for me, it’s this acknowledgement that I’m nearby. It doesn’t mean that I have to stop, run and go, and pick her up. I might say, “I hear you, Isla. I’m coming, I’m close by. I know you’re hungry. Mom is making your bottle,” or whatever it is that I’m doing that’s going to be responsive to her needs, is important.
Veronica: So I think sometimes attachment parenting or this secure attachment with children is misinterpreted as spoiling the child, or always running when the child cries, but it’s more about this notion of being responsive to the child, even if it’s not immediately picking them up.
Focus on play and interactions
Jessica: Yeah, that’s so helpful to hear that nuance and just hear how you have brought all these different philosophies into your own parenting. So many of your friends I know look up to you because they look to you for guidance, because of your research background. And what do they admire most? I know this might be kind of an uncomfortable thing to speak about yourself, but please just don’t worry about boasting with us. Just what do they admire most about… What do you think that they admire most about your parenting?
Veronica: Maybe we have to interview a few of our friends to, [chuckle] to know for sure. But I would say that when I have friends over who have kids who were similar in age as Isla, I would say that the thing they say is I’m kind of relaxed as a parent, and that my primary goal when interacting with Isla is play. So I don’t really approach our interactions with this intentionality about teaching. It’s really this focus on playing with her.
Veronica: And when I see opportunities of course, to add language or to add a dimension of challenge when we’re interacting, I of course, capitalize on that. But it’s really about play and interacting, and just because I’m not explicitly teaching something doesn’t mean that a lot of learning isn’t happening, right?
Veronica: So when my friends are over and they have similar age kids, they sometimes ask me like, “How can I teach my child to do this or that or say that word?” And I come back to, “Well, maybe as a parent, I don’t think we have to feel that pressure of… I’m a teacher right now.” You’re a parent and your role is just to interact with your child, so if you want your child to learn a new word, it’s not about sitting with your child and repeating the word and trying to teach them the word in an explicit way that you might think about in traditional education settings.
Veronica: But it’s more about weaving that word into your practice, and maybe moving away from wanting the child to learn a particular word. Just using words constantly in your environment is the best way to boost children’s language. So when I go on a walk with Isla, I’m not going outside thinking, “Okay, well, today, I want to teach her the word ‘flower’. So I’m going to look for a flower, and I’m going to repeat the word ‘flower’ with her 10 times when we’re on the walk.”
Veronica: Rather, we’re just out in a walk. I happen to see a flower that’s a unique color that might be engaging for her, and I point it out and I say, “Look, Isla, a flower.” And I slow it down and I enunciate, and I just maybe repeat it a couple of times. And if she wants to stop and engage with the flower, great. If she wants to repeat it, great. If not, we continue on with our walk. So I would say that in terms of my approach to parenting that I recommend to my friends, is just being present and being playful in our interactions with kids.
Tips for raising a bilingual child
Jessica: It sounds so simple, and it’s just such good advice. You studied bilingualism in children. For those of us who would like to introduce a second language in our home, can you give us some tips to get started down a bilingual track with our babies?
Veronica: Sure. I would say that in terms of bilingualism with kids, one of the things that is most beneficial is to have someone who is a native speaker of that language just have conversations with your kids. So again, if you’re thinking about a traditional education approach where you want children to learn content in a particular language, yes, that’s true for education and maybe within a school setting.
Veronica: But when you’re thinking about your home and how to expose children to another language, if you know somebody, a family member, a friend, even if it’s not in person, even if it’s through Skype, we have technology nowadays, having your child interact with somebody who’s a native speaker of that language is a really awesome way to just expose them to language. A lot of learning is through the process of exposure and not necessarily this process of intentional teaching. We don’t have to sit and teach our children how to conjugate verbs for them to have a functional understanding of a language, be able to understand a language, and start to speak that language.
Veronica: One thing that’s really interesting is, a lot of times when families are trying to teach children another language, they tend to do something called “back-to-back translation”, where they say it in English and then they’ll say it in another language. Or they’ll say it in another language and then say it in English, so the child is sort of understanding the word that you’re trying to teach them. But actually in research, that has been shown to not be that effective.
Veronica: And the example that we talk about a lot when we’re training teachers or families on supporting bilingualism is this airport effect, right? If we’re in an international airport and there are a lot of announcements that are going on and they’re happening in many different languages, we’re not sitting there trying to tune in to maybe that second or third language that we sort of know. We’re just waiting for English to come on, or whatever your dominant language is.
Veronica: And you’re literally turning off the receptive area of your brain and then turning it back on when that language that you know well comes on. So if we engage in back-to-back translation constantly, the child may just wait for that English language and not really be as receptive to the other language that we’re trying to teach. So things like using pictures when you’re trying to define a word, or gestures or actions, are actually a lot more effective when teaching new words or speaking in another language, than the back-to-back translation with whatever their primary language is.
Benefits of bilingualism
Jessica: I did not know that. That is fascinating. And so what are the benefits of bilingualism, of creating environment for a baby or a toddler that has multiple languages?
Veronica: So many benefits of bilingualism. And I’m glad as a researcher and just as a parent, and as someone who… English is not my first language. So I grew up only speaking Spanish until I was about five or six years old. My father didn’t know any English at all. So we only spoke Spanish in our home. And I’m so glad that more recently research has started to capitalize on understanding the benefits of bilingualism. So children who are bilingual actually show superior executive functioning skills.
Veronica: So executive functioning skills are housed in our prefrontal cortex, which is the front of our brain. And it’s the most sophisticated area of our brain that’s responsible for planning and for being flexible and problem solving, and really thinking rationally. And we actually find when we do fMRIs on bilingual children, that that frontal part of their brain is more activated than children that are monolingual English… Oh, well I guess here in the United States, we look at monolingual English speakers. But wherever, somebody who’s a monolingual speaker has less prefrontal activation than somebody who is bilingual. Because of that code switching that happens in their brain, they’re actually exercising that part of their brain more often.
Jessica: It’s fascinating to hear about so much, so many of the things that you have studied and also just are applying in your life. We’ve loved speaking to you today. Thank you so much, Veronica.
Veronica: Absolutely. This was fun.
Take an eclectic and balanced approach
No need to adhere 100% to any one parenting philosophy if it doesn’t completely resonate with you. Consider taking an eclectic and balanced approach. For example, the Montessori recommendation to give your baby a breakable drinking glass may or may not work for you.
Every child responds differently
Every child responds to situations differently. For some, the freedom prescribed by the RIE method works well. Other children do well with the Montessori approach that fosters independence and focus. Or maybe your child responds better to the closeness and intimacy that is encouraged with attachment parenting.
Create a “yes” space for your child
Try creating a “yes” space for your child. Kids hear “no” a lot. A yes space is a place where children can explore everything freely and safely. Anything can go in their mouth, they can move around and play in any way they want. In what capacity can you offer more freedom and autonomy to your baby?
Focus on interactions and play
Veronica’s primary focus when interacting with her daughter is play. Just because you aren’t explicitly teaching something, doesn’t mean deep learning isn’t happening. Rather than trying to teach your child a particular word, for example, think about weaving a lot of language into your everyday routine.
You can learn more about the different parenting philosophies and how you can incorporate them into your life on Lovevery’s blog, “Here With You.”
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