To Comply or to Conform… that is the Question?

“How do your children transition to first grade?”

I wasn’t surprised by the question which typically comes up during a tour.   I was surprised, though, that this Dad was worried about first grade readiness.  His baby wasn’t even born yet.

Immediately, my mind sifted through to the barrage of information, research, affirmation, test results, lesson plans, teacher qualifications, school accreditation checks and balances which I typically share with Primary aged families.  I looked into the father’s eyes then glanced over to his wife; what could I tell these soon-to-be parents that would help guide them in their decision making process on how to provide best for their infant in a way that would prepare him or her for the rigors of later academics and life itself?

My thoughts turned back to our current Kindergarten students; what attributes do these individuals convey that best prepares them for elementary success?  Each armed with unique gifts, resourcing abilities, temperaments, family cultures, weaknesses requiring scaffolding, testing abilities, self-regulatory capacity.  Looking outside my office door, the eldest student answered the father for me.

Together the Expectant Parents and I watched as the six-year old began negotiating with two of his peers deciding who would get to play chess with him and who would watch- they both wanted to play.  Michael tried several tactics to please both of his buddies, but neither seemed happy with the solution.

Michael did not give up, finally giving up the chess game for a work which could involve all three of them.  Later that morning, he was able to return to his first choice of chess once his friends’ needs had been met.  Many things struck me about the interchange we witnessed- at the core, what struck me most was Michael’s ability to know himself and his desires, appreciate and respect the desires of his friends, stay in tune with the group throughout the discussion and then comply with a group request of togetherness without conforming by giving up his own desire.

He was able to say, “OK.  Right now we’ll do what you want.  It seems really important to you.  Later I will do as I desire.”  – something that some adults have difficulty managing.

So where is this foundation laid?

We think early on- at infancy- from the moment of birth and first through our everyday care-giving routines.

A RIE baby attains a strong sense of value and respect beginning with how he is cared for during eating, sleeping and diapering routines.  At play, his concentration and motivation are carefully observed and the environment is prepared to follow his interest and regard, which he shares with his primary teacher by touching base and refueling.  The discovery is open-ended and while the routines may be predictable enabling security, the timing is set by the child.

On the other hand, parents are advised that in order to be wise, they must put children on adult centered schedules, feed by the clock rather than body cues, wear their babies on their bodies throughout the day or place them in positions the child can not get herself in and out of.  With the best of intentions, well-meaning parents and educators ask an individual child to conform to their expectations; in her efforts, the baby adapts and develops a need even for that which is preset for her.  It can be difficult not to ask a child, though, to conform to an adult schedule or activity which allows for us to ensure that everything that needs to be done for baby and adult is taken care of.  However, it can be difficult for the child later to know what she wants and resource herself in getting needs met, to regulate his own body, to feel secure without the presence of outside support, to trust herself.


Learning to comply- a necessary skill in becoming a contributing member to society- or learning to conform- requiring the input of another to move forward starts with our regard of babies.  An infant regarded with love and respect by his primary caregivers develops the skill to read and understand his community and wants to contribute to its success.  Eventually he complies- sets his impulses-or will aside (self-regulation) in order to help the group, to which he feels he belongs to, be successful.



A RIE baby isn’t asked to conform- he is invited to cooperate.

A RIE baby complies- she wants her family to succeed.

Being true to yourself while being sensitive to the needs and desires of others is not only a vital life skill, it also assists the child in transitioning to new environments.  To collaborate, cooperate, comply takes time and a degree of sophistication.

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