The art of observation

MonaClimbingRecently we have been having lots of conversations about struggle and observation. And observing the struggle, both in ourselves and in our children. And about how intense and difficult it is to observe. And…

Magda Gerber encouraged us to observe our child, observe and observe and perhaps observe a bit more. We have both written about observing our own children before, and about ways which helped us in learning how to do so and what to pay attention to. But what if you are observing your child struggle, or at least attempt something and fail, and it is all you can do not to jump in and help out? How can we help ourselves so we can help our children?

We noticed that in learning the fine art of observation, what hinders us most is trying to figure out the answer to ‘What next?’. It seems that the most difficult task for us, parents, is to ‘just’ notice what is going on, without trying to figure out what our child’s next step might be. It is that practice of constant guessing and waiting for the next step, that may prevent us from really seeing what is going on, and sometimes leads us to interrupt our child in their play. And it is that guessing and trying to be one step ahead of our children that sometimes leads us to help out a little bit too quickly, and perhaps not let our child be the master of their play, and reap the benefits (and pride) of doing it all by themselves. That stops us from waiting  just that one moment longer to see what will happen.

It seems that being truly objective and really in-the-moment is the hardest task of all. In coming to know a little bit about Non-Violent Communication, one of the key difficulties is to make an ‘observation’ – what happened? Not what you ‘think’ happened, what you think ‘should or should not have happened’, but really and only – what happened?

So, how can we help ourselves to help our children? We have noticed that there is a trick to observing we can do, and here it is:

Instead of guessing what will happen, try asking yourself what is going on right now. So, instead of asking yourself: ‘What is my child trying to do?’ try to ask: ‘What is my child doing right now?’

How does it work?

She is trying to reach a ball vs. She is stretching her arm towards the ball

She is trying to move forward vs. She is on her hands and knees, moving forwards and backwards

She is trying to get back down vs. She is standing and fully experiencing this new postition

When you say these things to yourself, how does it feel? Can you feel the difference how you perceive these actions? In the way you want to react, if at all?

If instead of looking for things your child is ‘trying’ to do, we focus on the ones our children are actually doing it might have the following effect:

  • We see our children as capable and able to do oh-so-much
  • Our urge to jump in and help out might be a bit less, and we may be inclined to try and see what they do next, and so let them be the master of their play
  • We might be sending the following message: ‘You can do so much. I can see it.’ Instead of: ‘You’re not there yet. You need my help.’

The difference may be subtle. You may think there is barely any difference. But do try this, and see how it changes your perspective, and your approach to your child’s behavior and action. And of course, there are times when our child is actually *trying very hard* to do something, and we *know* it. But maybe observing what we can see rather than what we anticipate helps both us and our children slow down and enjoy the process.

Let us know how it goes!

Anna & Nadine

3 thoughts on “The art of observation

  1. Pingback: RIE Parenting Basics (9 Ways to Put Respect into Action) | Janet Lansbury

  2. So just told my 8 month old Daughter Giada was trying to reach for my water bottle. In doing so she got stuck on all fours (she’s not crawling yet). I was observing her and trying so hard not to interrupt her, but she was clearly angry that she could not get the bottle and/or move! A good while went by and she still couldn’t move and I surrendered and sat her back up :( – should I have still waited and if so for how long? I feel like she’s thinking why are you not helping me mom??? Thank you for doing what you do Janet!
    Warmly
    Tracy

  3. Thank you for this very timely message. My nearly 4 month old son rolled from his back to his belly for the first time 2 days ago, a lucky combination of strength and positioning he is yet to repeat, though he is spending lots of time on his side, looking as though a feather would push him forward to his belly. Having seen him do it once I feel like he should? could? be doing it repeatedly, but I needed this reminder that he is working really hard at figuring out gravity and balance and his own strength. Thank you.

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