Are You a Calm or Hysterical Caregiver?

Visual Cliff Experiment from Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky

In Mind in the Making, Ellen Galinsky has grouped research into seven critical areas that children need most: (1) focus and self control; (2) perspective taking; (3) communicating; (4) making connections; (5) critical thinking; (6) taking on challenges; and (7) self-directed, engaged learning.

For each of these skills, Galinsky shows caregivers what the studies have proven, and she provides numerous concrete things that you can do to strengthen these skills in children. They are the skills that give children the ability to focus on their goals so that they can learn more easily and communicate what they have learned. These are the skills that prepare children for the pressures of modern life, skills that they will draw on now and for years to come.

All week we have been reviewing video clips from the vook (video book) Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky. Below is the Visual Cliff experiment by UC Berkely Professor, Jo Campos. It shows that we  communicate with children in many ways and in this experiment we see that visual communication with caregivers, especially parents, is essential in the development of babies.

In this experiment, a baby is placed on a large box that’s covered by a piece of clear plexi-glass. Halfway across, there’s what looks like a drop, though it’s clearly safe to cross thanks to the sturdy platform. On the opposite side of the platform is the baby’s mother, either making a smiling face (signaling to the baby that it’s okay to cross), or a fearful face (which tells the baby to stay put).

As Amy McCampbell (who helped film and narrate the vook) explains, “The experiment is so powerful. You can really see the babies reading their parents to try to figure out what to do.”

She continues, “If you’re around kids, you see this phenomenon all the time. A child falls, and then looks up to an adult to see how they’re supposed to react. Calm adult, calm(er) child. Hysterical adult… well, you can imagine.”

Click below to purchase your own copy of this excellent book:

Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs


  1. Great clips. I think I do actually over react when a kid falls down…I didn't realize it though. I never thought of it but now I can see if I remain calm the baby will. I guess I knew it just really makes sense now.

  2. I like to think I am calm but the mother I work for is definitely hysterical. Littlest thing and she makes it like the child will die. Smart to check out every bump and bruise definitely. But, she's creating soap opera every time the child falls or bumps herself.

  3. OMG my Mom Boss is such a drama queen. Guess what? Kids fall down and get bruises once in a while. That's part of growing up. Kids do leave bathroom doors open while doing their business, that doesn't mean they need to be punished. Kids pick their noses in front people, just ask them to use a tissue, not send them to jail. We have to protect them but not make them nut cases in the process. I often want to say "Take a chill pill!"

  4. I know I am a very calm caregiver. Who knows maybe it comes from all the mishaps my siblings (and there are 10 of us) had growing up and knowing we survived.I do believe in babyproofing (and can be anal about it at times.) But I also believe in letting kids take on physical challenges. Getting dirty, climbing, etc.Maybe I also feel calm because I know when something is getting to risk, or if the accident happens because of first aid, cpr and water safety training I know how to respond in many instances. One of the big things I always request when starting a new job is the first aid kit if they don't have one.And, I had something happen as a nanny a few years ago. I had taken my charges in for an exam, and the dr. notices all their little bumps, bruises, and scrapes on their knees. They proudly tell her about them coming from playgrounds, trails, wipeouts on the sidewalk while riding bikes, etc. The doctor sighs and said I do not see enough legs like yours anymore. She looked at me and said Good Job Nanny! (It's a statement feel about how so many kids do not play enough anymore but sitting in front computers, tvs, etc.)Since then asking about things like the subject today is such a big part of my interview process now. I still want to be that good nanny that doctor thinks I am.

  5. This is all very interesting.But hasn't this been done years ago? I vividly remember seeing the experiment of the baby crawling on plexi glass with a visual drop many, many years ago-maybe 10+?

  6. This experiement brings up a topic I have been wondering about.When a child falls, gets hurt, some parents over-react- and some just say- shake it off. (mostly the shake it off response, is to boys and the cuddling, looking at the injury and kissing it- is mostly to the girls.) So later in life I wonder if that is why some (mostly woman) are more likely to go to the doctor and men hardly ever go? and some take off a day when they are feeling sick, but some push through it and tough it out?Andrea- Nanny in NJ

  7. Yes anonymous, some of these experiments I learned in College and I graduated in the '90s. The book doesn't claim to have new studies only, it examines ALL the most important research in childcare. Some studies were conducted 30+ years ago. The great thing about the VOOK video book is actually SEEING the studies rather than just reading about them in print. I think Galinsky condenses the research in a concise and easy to understand way.

  8. I just think it's remarkable that the baby will go over a cliff if his mother shows by her expression that s/he can go!! I mean, they are willing to go over the ciff if Mom encourages them to!! They rely on their parents so much!

  9. I agree Andrea, it's important how you deal with stress around kids. If you are anxious, they are anxious. If you are calm, they are more likely to be calm. The gender issues are interesting. You are right, boys are supposed to shrug it off while girls can cry (typically).

  10. You can't change a parent's personality. How they react to stress is who they are and all you can do is remain calm. I think nannies help parents in emergencies by remaining calm. You are a true professional if you can remain calm and collected with everyday stress and in emergencies.Maria LopezMiami FL

  11. I can't beleive some nannies are willing to talk badly about their bosses on this blog. I mean, so what if the mom is stressed out. We can only control our actions and feelings. Good advice to stay calm. We can't change the our bosses though.I think the experiment shows how sensitive babies are to our emotions. They would crawl over a cliff if their mom's face shows they can is pretty scary.

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