Continuum, or continuum concept, is a therapeutic practice based on the premise that people must be treated with great care during infancy to achieve peak physical, emotional, and mental health later in life. This care should include instinctual experiences similar to ones humans have been exposed to throughout evolution. These ongoing experiences are referred to as an individual's continuum.
As a child, Jean Liedloff was intrigued by the jungle and in particular, the character of Tarzan. She believed life in the jungle represented purity and honest living, as it had been untouched by Western culture. As a young adult, she had the opportunity to live among the Ye’kuana tribe in the jungles of Venezuela. Over the course of three years, Liedloff embarked on several expeditions, watching how the tribe lived and observing their method of child-rearing. She noticed the babies were rarely upset and that the children never argued; these experiences sparked ideas that would become the continuum concept. In 1975, Liedloff published her book on continuum, The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost.
The term “continuum,” as used by Jean Liedloff, its creator, not only refers to the lifetime experiences of a single person, but also the continuum of their family, clan, community, and species. The continuum concept postulates that the key to optimal human development is ensuring infants receive immediate care from birth onward. Liedloff believed human beings were wired with the instinct to expect their continuum needs to be met. For example, babies may expect an instantaneous response to their cries. However, due to cultural norms and health concerns, babies born in hospitals are not always allowed a constant connection to mothers and caregivers.
According to Liedloff, the following experiences can negatively impact development:
- Immediate separation from mother for medical reasons
- Placement in a maternity ward away from mother
- Physical isolation or exposure only to the sound of other babies' cries
- Scheduled feeding times
- Sleeping alone at home
- Left alone for hours at a time
- Crying ignored so as not to “spoil” the infant
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The continuum concept is founded on the principle that if continuum needs are met, the baby will feel comfortable, safe, and capable. Thus, the child will feel confident in their abilities and experience success throughout development. These continuum needs include the following:
- Physical contact: Frequent physical contact and touch from the mother is provided, and the infant is carried by the caregiver always, including during daily tasks.
- Sleep: Infants can sleep in parents’ bed until ready to sleep independently.
- Nourishment: Feeding times are dictated by baby's signals, not a schedule.
- Nurture: The caregiver’s response to signals like crying or squirming do not include judgment, frustration, or distaste. Responses are instead caring, calm, and appropriate.
Those who subscribe to the continuum concept theorize that when infants experience positive reactions and treatment, they are more likely to sense that caregivers expect them to be cooperative, social, and successful children and adults. These expectations can be met easily because the babies do not realize there are alternative outcomes. In this way, infants may be led to believe in their strong self-preservation instincts and can therefore live up to them, because of the care they received from birth.
The practice of continuum care is geared primarily towards parents, providing them with techniques to support proper development and emotional well-being in their children. However, continuum can also be used by adults who feel their early needs were not adequately met. Adults may incorporate aspects of continuum by focusing on breathing techniques, movement, auditory response, internal dialogue, and good communication. Individuals are then guided on a journey through their own development to access and examine different layers of who they are.
Designed partially as a set of parenting techniques, the continuum concept is based on the evolution of humanity and the concept of imprinting. Imprinting is the instinct to connect with and learn from caregivers after birth. According to the concept of imprinting, parent and child can quickly form a strong bond due to biological forces, emotional connection, and hormones. Continuum suggests that if these processes are facilitated, parents will want to be in constant contact with their child to meet its every need.
Continuum concept is based on the tenet that the need for this type of care is a quality embedded in human nature. Therefore, the theory stands that when cultural norms impede natural procedures, infants develop maladaptive beliefs about their caregivers and are denied confidence in their ability to self-sustain. When their cries are rendered meaningless, they internalize the idea that they are helpless.
The goal of continuum care is to help people shed learned views of child-rearing and adopt an inner knowledge, or intuition, of continuum sense. Individuals are encouraged to return to their evolutionary roots and follow instincts to care for their young.
Some limitations of the continuum concept are its eschewal of Western methodologies and its tendency to broadly categorize Western culture. This can potentially lead to some unawareness of effective advances made by researchers who adhere to different schools of thought. More research would also likely be useful in determining the efficacy and validity of applications of the continuum concept.
Additionally, this model does not provide much advice for parents of children who did not use the continuum method when their children were infants but want to begin using it. This approach may not support parents who wish to correct issues caused by other means of parenting, implying that infancy is the most crucial time in an individual’s development.
Some have criticized the continuum concept for the tendency of its adherents to shame mothers who do not practice continuum care. These critics claim that the idea of continuum as a whole may contribute to assigning undue blame, or the label of being a “bad parent,” to those who prefer a different parenting style.
- Bobel, C. (2004). When good isn’t enough: Mother blame in the continuum concept. Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/272408378_When_Good_Enough_Isn't_Mother_Blame_in_The_Continuum_Concept
- Brogan, K. (n.d.). The continuum concept: Realigning with intuition. Retrieved from http://kellybroganmd.com/the-continuum-concept-realigning-with-intuition/
- Liedloff, J. (n.d.). Understanding the continuum concept. Retrieved from http://www.continuum-concept.org/cc_defined.html