Who is Emmi Pikler?
Emmi Pikler was a Hungarian Pediatrician who researched both the emotional and physical components of natural gross motor development in newborns and infants. The focus of her work was to give brand new human beings the best start possible to their lives by being showing great respect for their inherent capabilities to move and think. Jump to: Studying Pediatric Medicine in Vienna Making Observations and Testing Things Out Testing in the Home Clinical Research Emmi Pikler's Continuing Influence A Positive Voice in the Parenting World Studying Pediatric Medicine in Vienna Stories start in all sorts of places. At birth, in homes, in hospitals, at school, or during some other crucial juncture in a person’s life. To tell the story of Hungarian-born Emmi Pikler, it would have to begin in Vienna, Austria, in the 1920s, when Emmi began studying medicine. While studying pediatric care, she was impressed by the work of two of her professors - Prof. Clemens von Pirquet, and Prof. Hans Salzer. Both Pirquet and Salzer treated illness by focusing their attention on the child’s well-being. Pirquet did this by ensuring his patients had time to play outdoors and had good nutrition. Salzer focused on the relationship between himself and his patients, noting that when a child was treated as a person and not a subject, they were calm during examinations, and illness was more likely to be overcome. Making Observations and Testing Things Out With these two influences on the physical and emotional health of the child, Dr. Pikler entered the pediatric field viewing children as whole and capable people - a progressive view at that time. It was through this lens that she began to take note of accident statistics among her patients. She noticed that children who spent a significant portion of time in the open air, climbing in trees, and using their bodies, tended to have greater physical resilience than children who did not spend much time being physically active. She also observed active children had fewer broken bones, got sick less often, and were generally healthier in both body, and mind. A strong correlation was seen between the children in lower-class families who had the freedom to move and greater general autonomy and greater overall health. Whereas, children from upper-class families, whose movement and independence were limited due to over-protection from caregivers, were lacking physically. Testing at Home When Emmi and her husband, Gyorgy, had their first child, they focused on allowing her as much freedom of movement as possible. Dr. Pikler had suspected that infants did not need adults to stimulate them with sounds or toys, or to intervene when infants found themselves in awkward positions. What parents and caregivers commonly saw as helping children learn, Dr. Pikler hypothesized as being more of a hindrance to the development of the whole child - both physically and mentally. After seeing parents teaching their infants to sit, walk, and stand on the adult's timeline, Dr. Pikler wondered about the connection between the body and the mind. She was concerned that by doing things for a child that they could have learned to do themselves, parents were effectively communicating to the child that they were incapable - or worse, that they were somehow behind in their development. Clinical Research When Dr. Pikler had confirmed experiences in allowing her very young daughter and pediatric patients to move independently, she found a new goal. She wanted to teach mothers and caregivers how to care for children through observation of the child and through creating home environments designed to develop the relationship between the mind and the body. Cognizant of the connection between emotional and physical influences on the structure of the human body, Dr. Pikler - along with others such as Elsa Gindler and Elfriede Hengstenberg, who addressed the treatment of physical misalignments - sought a preventative approach. Development, in Pikler’s view, was to be natural, emphasizing the causal relationship between the emotional security of the infant and proper physical growth. After World War II, Dr. Pikler, along with Marika Reinitz - a nurse with whom Dr. Pikler had previously worked - was asked to establish a residential nursery for infants that had been left behind by the war. In a house in Budapest, Hungary, Pikler, and Reinitz prepared what was, in their view, the ideal environment for children to be raised. Here, Pikler had the opportunity to take care of children, and to conduct research that illustrated how relationships with children affect their physical and emotional development. They used a natural (not trained) path of infant motor development, and child-led play and discovery. This led to decades of research presented in books and papers, manifested in the lives of the children in Dr. Pikler’s care. Emmi Pikler's Continuing Influence Emmi Pikler has been referred to as one of the “first teachers” in the respectful care of children. Her research has inspired people from all walks of life. Individuals following the Pikler style of caring for children tend to find themselves in peaceful, curious, cooperative, and kind relationships. They tend to find themselves with stronger physical constitutions, and more harmonious family lives, are witnessing children who are healthy and thriving and resilient - and are also changing in better ways, for themselves and the children in their care. One notable individual who was inspired by Dr. Pikler’s work was Magda Gerber. After receiving pediatric care from Dr. Pikler, Gerber was so taken with Pikler’s ideas that in 1978 she organized Resources for Infant Educarers (R.I.E.) using Pikler’s methods and principles - and bringing them into the English-speaking world. A Positive Voice in the Parenting World Dr. Emmi Pikler was quiet, tenacious, and highly observant. She was led by a deep desire to improve the world, to leave it better than she found it. She did this by focusing her work on helping children become who they already were, take hold of their intrinsic and inherent qualities as whole beings, be strong physically, and be curious and autonomous. Her work was to help children become adults who were respectful to others and themselves. Reading about Dr. Pikler’s work can often feel liberating. In a world of comparison and pressure to make sure our children are developing “the right way,” understanding the simple principles in Emmi Pikler’s approach may assist in letting go of artificial timelines, averages, percentages, and so forth, giving our children room to grow into themselves without us hampering their progress. Our relationships may become better, more cooperative, and more cohesive. Emmi Pikler was a remarkable human being who made a great impact on the world through her research, acting as a jumping-off point for others. She quietly observed, questioned, and presented information. And when she left the world, she left it better than she found it.