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Sheryl White, founder of Baby Kneads in Southborough, Massachusetts specializes in teaching parents, educators, professionals and caregivers how to strengthen their relationship with an infant, toddler or child. Today she talks with us about using infant massage, sign language, mindfulness and other early childhood development techniques to better connect and communicate with babies.
SBT: What is Baby Kneads and how do you educate and serve your clients?
Sheryl: My business is about communicating with babies from the start. We do that through infant massage since that’s the first way to communicate with a baby. From there, we progress to sign language and gestures, which helps reduce frustration and increase bonding. Later, we work with being more present and in the moment with children between the ages of two and 10. Adults are present from the moment the baby is born and by age two we are teaching children how to be present.
SBT: What inspired you to help parents, teachers and caregivers create better connections and communication with children?
Sheryl: When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter I wrote a song because I knew that I wanted to connect with her even before she was born. I sang the song to her throughout my entire pregnancy. When she was born, as soon as they put her on my chest, I sang that song to her because I wanted her to feel safe and familiar in the whole birth experience. She looked at me when I sang that song and it was a moment for me where I thought “Okay, there’s so much more to this baby than what the textbooks say.” She had such an awareness and a presence in that moment that I knew I wanted to communicate with her as soon as possible. A couple of days after she was born, my father-in-law gave me a book about baby massage. That was a great experience for me because my daughter was colicky so baby massage helped me get through a lot of rough nights. She started to show me her preferences, which reinforced my belief that she was trying to communicate. There is so much that we can say before babies can speak verbally. My father-in-law also gave me book on sign language and I started doing that with her. It was amazing that we could communicate through gestures and have that bond and connection continue. That’s when I j knew had to share it with anybody that was willing and interested because it was so impactful on my life. I’ve also studied yoga and practiced meditation in my own life so when someone asked me three years ago if I could do a program on meditation for preschoolers, I put together a mindfulness program too.
SBT: What are some of the common challenges you help parents solve when it comes to communicating with their babies?
Sheryl: Parents often come to me because they have a baby that’s uncomfortable or fussy and the parents are stressed out. They’re frustrated because they can’t communicate with their toddler, or they have a four-year-old that is not sleeping well. Sometimes their child might have a little bit of anxiety and may not be able to sit still and focus. Those are the typical problems. I show them how easy it can be to communicate with a baby and for a baby to communicate back. Even a two-week-old has preferences on how they like to be massaged, what part of their body they like and what they don’t like.
SBT: How do you see the relationship between parents or caregivers and children change as a result of using these techniques?
Sheryl: I had one client who was really frustrated because her 13-month-old had no spoken words and no sign language. After six private sessions, we realized that connecting more through eye contact helped her engage more with her child and helped her child communicate more. It sounds like a simple thing, right, and it really is a simple thing. But there’s a lot of information coming at us and we’re really busy so sometimes something as simple as eye contact can get lost. There’s so much that we communicate to our children through our eyes. Our energy comes out through our eyes. Babies and children enjoy that, plus eye contact is a basic social skill. So these techniques improve that connection and relationship. It creates more emotional balance.
SBT: Wow, such a simple, tiny shift can make a big impact. Are there other common mistakes people make when they’re trying to understand and communicate with an infant?
Sheryl: It really comes down to not being present. Many times I’m working with families who have been signing with their child and say their child isn’t signing back. What I find though is that the child is doing what we call signing approximation, which means it’s not exactly the way that I’m showing it to the baby, but it’s coming back in a modified way. For example, I had a client start coming to me when their daughter was two months old. I worked with them until their daughter was two and a half. Around that age, I was signing water to her and she made a gesture to her mouth. It looked a little bit like water, but it was different. By the end of our session I knew she was signing water to me even though it was a signing approximation. Her parents told me that she had been doing that gesture for a couple of months. So it really comes down to making some space and time to see what’s happening, to be aware, and watch what’s going on so you don’t miss what the child is trying to say.
SBT: It sounds like mindfulness is a big part of your work whether it’s massage or sign language.
Sheryl: Definitely, and it’s something that I strive to create in my classes. It’s one of the reasons people come to my classes because I am fully there. It’s in my work with adults and something that I teach families or groups of preschoolers. Oftentimes people cannot even imagine that a young child would ever sit and be engaged and interested for that length of time. I love it because it changes everybody’s limiting beliefs about how their preschoolers will not sit still for a certain length of time outside of being on a device.
I taught a class recently with three-year-old boys and the person who hired me said “Good luck to you.” We stand up, we sit down and they are encouraged to participate. They were engaged with me for one full hour and the boys had a great time while the parents observed. I love working with preschoolers because they are naturally in the moment. They are capable of being present, but they learn from adults that there’s not enough time to be present.
SBT: How does tapping into that natural presence impact a child’s development and growth?
Sheryl: It gives them a whole toolbox for when they enter kindergarten because they’re expected to sit and focus. They are away from their parents for long periods of time, which creates some anxiety, so mindfulness helps with all of that. I’ve had parents bring their preschoolers to a four-week session on mindfulness. The parents tell me by week four that their three-year-old is sleeping through the night, has less anxiety and are happier. Mindfulness teaches them how to become aware of how they’re feeling in the moment, accept how they feel and take a pause so they can choose to do something else instead of slamming the door or fighting.
SBT: Why are some parents, teachers or caregivers reluctant to use these techniques?
Sheryl: I think some people aren’t open to it because they don’t understand it. They think it’s some new age spiritual or religious activity. It’s not. We’re engaging children’s senses through play. My role is to simplify mindfulness so people can understand it, which is why I model it when I teach it. We practice together. We listen to our breathing or we listen to the sounds in the room. We think about all of the different thoughts and memories that we have when we smell something. That helps us learn more about what we’re thinking, how we’re feeling and what’s going on around us in our environment. Even though the goal is to become more aware, the result is a shift with everybody in the room. We are all calm because we are focusing on one thing and we’re slowing down.
SBT: It doesn’t take long too slow down and re-engage does it?
Sheryl: When you’re away from your kids and you get back to them, that’s when they want to connect again. They want to recharge their batteries with you before they run off and play again. I study Reiki and energy medicine, and it’s been my experience that until a child is six years old or so, their energy is strongly intertwined with the adults. Connecting your energy makes them feel safe energetically. Once they are more developed, they can be away from you for longer periods of time without needing as much of that recharging.
SBT: Can you share a lesson that you learned early on that still impacts how you do business today?
Sheryl: I’ve always looked at my long-term goals, not just what I’m doing right now. I’m always planting seeds and practice keeping my beliefs positive. I’ve read many Louise Hay books and one of her mantras I use often is “I have a wonderful business and a wonderful way. I give excellent service for great pay.”
SBT: What is the most important thing we should consider when connecting and communicating with the children in our lives?
Sheryl: Even though we feel like our thoughts and beliefs are ours alone, those thoughts and beliefs can have an impact on our children. The best way to better connect and communicate with children in our lives is to continue working on ourselves.
SBT: How can someone find out more about you Sheryl and Baby Kneads?
Sheryl: You can get more information about me, my private classes and upcoming events at BabyKneads.com and at Facebook.com/babykneads. I also teach free sign language classes at more than 50 different libraries in New England.
Sheryl White is the founder of Baby Kneads, a certified Infant Massage Instructor, Baby Signer, Reiki Master and mother of three. She received training in ‘New Parents as Teachers’, a program developed by her father-in-law, child development expert and author of the acclaimed book First Three Years of Life, Dr. Burton White. She is also a certified instructor of Joseph Garcia’s International Sign 2 Me Presenters Network for babies and toddlers, as well as a member of the International Association of Infant Massage. The Boston Globe, The Metrowest Daily News, School Library Journal, Massage & Bodywork Magazine and WBZ radio have profiled and featured Sheryl’s work. She has also spoken at the Massachusetts Library Conference and Boston Association for the Education of Young Children.
Gayle Nowak is a contributor to Small Business Trendsetters and Business Innovators Magazine covering influencers, innovators and trendsetters in business, health, finance and personal development. She also has contributed to Founderswire.com, an American digital news magazine and video channel that provides in-depth analysis and reporting on modern entrepreneurship and technology that solves global problems. She was previously a staff writer and contributor for several local newspapers in the Boston media market including the Ludlow Register, Ashland and Holliston TABs, MetroWest News and Taunton Daily Gazette.