Why RDI® Emphasizes the Guiding Relationship

The Importance of the Guiding Relationship

The parent-infant guiding relationship is akin to the interplay between different components of a guided rocket. The success of parent efforts at promoting the growth of their infants mental and self development is dependent on the child’s providing the primary ‘thrust’ for growth, while parents primarily serve as the ‘guidance system,’ directing that energy in a productive direction.

Simply put, parents play the primary role in children’s mental, self and neural development.

What happens with autism is that we have seen a pattern emerging with infants who are later diagnosed with autism – the inability to successfully co-participate in the parent/child Guiding Relationship.

When infants who go on to be diagnosed with autism do not contribute sufficient energy to their relationship, parents, no matter how motivated or proficient they are, are unable to guide and their relationship cannot develop in a normal manner.

The Guiding Relationship helps a child develop the tools that will carry them through their life. RDI® helps to re-establish this relationship.

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Importance of the Parent Child Guiding Relationship in Autism
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Research Summary

There are a host of psychologists, educators and other experts who make a strong case that parents play the primary role in children’s mental, self and neural development. Below are a few of the things the experts have to say.

Context for Development

Parents are the architects and managers of their children’s development, [providing] the fundamental foundations that determine  whether or not children will be able to derive maximum benefit from their future experiences.” (Neitzel & Stright, 2003)

Drs. Brownell & Kopp have referred to parent-child interaction as,  “… the fundamental context for development.” (Brownell & Kopp, 2007)

“Research has consistently pointed to the parent-child relationship as central both to children’s learning of self-regulation and future cognitive competence.” (Young & Hauser-Cram, 2008)

Transferring Meaning

Noted expert, Dr. Barbara Rogoff has referred for many years to the general consensus in the scientific community, that children’s development of thinking and problem-solving is primarily the result of hundreds of transactions that involve, “…transformations in the nature of the sharing of meaning between parents and children.” (Rogoff, 1991)

In a similar vein, Dr. Peter Hobson has convincingly argued that higher level thinking can only be acquired by having mental processes, ‘pass through the minds of others’, “Through others the child gains a vantage-point from which to relate to her own attitudes and actions. … she can begin to sort out what It is to have one perspective among many.” (Hobson, 2002)

Related: A Brief Introduction to MindGuiding

Routine Interactions Are Crucial

A number of noted psychologists have discussed the critical role of what may seem like ‘routine’ parent-child conversations – reminiscing about prior events, providing perspectives on current events and preparing for future events – in developing children’s mental awareness & sense of self:

Dr. Katherine Nelson has described how learning to establish a past that can be traveled through [in one’s mind] depends on child and parent’s shared remembering experiences. “The result of this learning is the establishment of a store of memories [..] forming a personal history that has its own value independent of the general memory function of prediction and preparation.” (Nelson, 1988)

Fivush & Nelson describe how, through parent-scaffolded interaction, “… children come to understand their memories as representations, and themselves as having unique perspectives on their past.”  (Fivush & Nelson, 2006)

Hoerl has discussed how, through joint reminiscence, children develop the motivation and means to save memories, not as a temporary store but as having meaning in and of themselves. “Talking about experienced events with parents who scaffold children’s narratives and provide coherence and organization, not only provides a means for organizing them for future recall but also for how to organize saved representations in relation to others by understanding how they ‘fit’ into the child’s historical life, including how they link with other events.” (Hoerl, 2007).

More recently, Fivush described how joint reminiscing with parents not only creates an individual history; it also creates a shared history.  “Through reminiscing with others about shared events, one creates an autobiography intertwined with others. We are bonded together in the present because of what we have shared in the past. Thus mother – child reminiscing is critical for creating and maintaining emotional bonds.” (Fivush, 2011) 

Learn From Other Parents Just Like You

Not sure where to start when it comes to the Guiding Relationship? It’s easier than you think. The RDI® program can give you the support, tools, and resources you need to help your child succeed in life. Many parents have found our Online Learning Community – where you can find encouragement, resources, and more from other parents, professionals, and adults on the spectrum – to be the best place to start.

Join the Online Community today.


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