Baby Talk: Jean Liedloff's Continuum Concept


Nearly four decades ago, during a diamond hunting expedition in the jungles of South America, author Jean Liedloff met an indigenous people named the Yequana, who were/are still living largely as they did in the Stone Age. She was so taken with the Yequanas, she decided to move in with them for a couple years to study the differences between the ways in which they raised their children and the ways in which we, in the U.S., generally raise our children.

I know about Liedloff and her fascinating discoveries (which I'll get to momentarily) because my wife and I are in the middle of raising our 11-month-old Jack, whose name, you all helped us decide right here on this blog. So far, we've been co-sleeping with Jack, attachment parenting-style, and have, only by coincidence, adhered to a lot of Jean's/the Yequana's ideas, which she wrote about in her 1975 book, The Continuum Concept.

What Jean discovered in South America is this: Yequana children did not suffer from the terrible twos. They, likewise, weren't prone to tantrums, selfishness and all the annoying nagging and whining that most American children display at home, and increasingly more common, in public.

The reason? Jean says the Yequana Indians give their infants much, much more attention in the early stages (like 0 "“ 6 months), yet never fall into the trap of letting the children become the center of their universe (the way many American's do from age 6 months on).

So what do I mean by more attention in the early stages? Imagine the opposite of: 1) Putting an infant in her own room and letting her cry it out until she goes to sleep. 2) Eating on the parents' schedule and pacifying the child when it isn't "feeding time." 3) Leaving the child alone with a television or inanimate objects/toys. 4) Conforming to parents' expectations that she is basically antisocial.

So you can imagine the opposite, and that's precisely how the Yequana people go about it, carrying the infant around on their person everywhere they go, catering to her needs, yet never giving up the daily chores (on the contrary, involving the child in them).

Infants whose continuum needs are fulfilled, according to Liedloff, have greater self-esteem and become more independent than those whose cries go unanswered for fear of spoiling them or making them too dependent. They also don't carry on, nag, or any of those things, as already mentioned.

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