Why Observe Children at Play?

My days seem so much longer during these weeks of social distancing. How about you? Without the regular commitments that keep us on the run and all the people home all the time, days seem to go on and on and on.

But while being home together, some of this ‘extra’ time we’ve been given can be used to practice our observation skills.

 

Educators use observation in classrooms to better understand how their students learn.  Observation helps them tailor the learning environment to each individual child. What they observe helps them better meet the needs of each of their students.

The Benefits of Observation

But observation is not just for teachers.  Parents can also see benefits from observing their children at play.  By watching, without influencing or interfering, we can gain insight into the connection between our children’s motives and behaviors.  Understanding what is triggering a behavior can help us help them navigate their reactions and feelings. 

In a recent article on being home for extended time with preschoolers, Teacher Tom encourages, “Instead of feeling like you need to fill their days with “enrichment,” I urge you to instead simply observe them at play: no “good jobs,” no unsolicited advice, no using the moment to answer email or check social media. Ask yourself, what are they teaching themselves right now? What theories stand behind their play? What are the driving questions they are trying to answer? I like to think of it as listening with all of my senses, with my full self. What will you do with the data you collect? Nothing. Be satisfied that you now know it. Better understanding our loved ones is an end unto itself.”

That is really the key: observation leads to better understanding.  Ready to spend a little time observing? Here are some tips for observing children at play.

Choose a time when your child is playing independently.  Sit where you are not a distraction and avoid calling attention to yourself.  Have a notebook and pen handy in case you want to write down your observations.  If your child tries to engage you in their activity, reassure them that you are nearby, but are busy doing your work.  

Observe what your child has chosen to play with.  What do they choose?  Do they use a single toy for long periods of time, or move about the room playing briefly with many different toys? How do they play with them? Do they invent new ways to use their toys, or use them the same way each time

Observe their interactions with others.  If you have other children in the home, how do they interact with others? What role do they take within the group? Do they initiate play or wait to be invited? What types of activities do they enjoy with others?  What do they enjoy doing alone? Do they look for your direction and attention? How do they ask for help? 

Observe their use of language. How do they use language?  Are they easy to understand? Do they make their wishes known verbally?  Are there other ways they express their needs? If you observe multiple times over the course of a week, do you see patterns of behavior?  Are there clues that lead up to a meltdown or a tantrum?   

Observe how they move. How much do they climb, run, skip, and jump?  Are they confident or hesitant in their movements? How is their balance? What physical activities do they enjoy? Does physical exertion change their mood?

Using what you observe

Teachers use the things they learn through observation to structure classroom experiences for individualized learning.  As parents we can use our observations just to know and understand our kids a little bit better, as Teacher Tom suggests.

But we can also use what we learn by being intentional about observation to adjust our parenting. Do you notice that meltdowns happen just before 11:00 each morning?

Would offering a snack and a change of scenery at 10:30 help ease them through this time of day?

 

My 6th grader was struggling with middle school last Fall.  So many classrooms and teachers, lots of responsibility for getting herself and her things where they need to be when they need to be there.  By observing when she struggled the most, I deduced that she was overwhelmed with the responsibility of all those choices. So we pulled back a bit on the independence and took away some of her choices. You could almost hear an audible sigh of relief. 

Some of what we observe confirms what we already know about our kids.  But some will provide new insights and maybe even an ‘ah ha’. When we take a step back, and spend some time observing our children we give ourselves the gift of intentional time spent understanding them better.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own.  You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

5 Ways to Improve Communication Skills for Parents

Does trying to have a conversation with your ‘tween feel like nails on a chalkboard?  Do you feel like you are talking to a wall rather than your teen? Do you try to have a heartfelt conversation, but feel like they just don’t hear you?  

If you struggle when trying to communicate with your children, here are 5 tips for improving parent-child communication skills.

Start with shared feelings, not a question

  • Initiate the conversation by sharing your thoughts and feelings rather than with a question.  Questions can make children defensive, making it harder for them to listen openly. Who hasn’t started a conversation with the question, “How was your day?”, only to get “fine” as the sum total of response? Starting with a comment about how you are feeling helps them see you as someone with feelings just like theirs and lays a foundation for reciprocal sharing.

Check yourself 

  • Remove distractions and make eye contact when your child is speaking. Make sure they know they have your full attention.
  • Don’t interrupt when they are talking – demonstrate good conversational skills by waiting until they have finished sharing their thoughts and opinions before you start sharing yours.
  • Be sure you are actively listening. Confirm understanding by restating what your child said, “What I heard you say is …, is that correct?”.  Let them repeat or rephrase what they said if your summary wasn’t correct.  
  • Don’t lecture or use a tone of voice that sounds angry or defensive.  

Get to know how your child communicates  

  • We all have different styles of communication.  Some children will happily expound on every detail of their day, while others have little to say and reluctantly engage in conversation.  If talking isn’t your child’s cup of tea, just spending time with them can help them know you are available if ever they want to talk.

Improve their listening skills

  •  Be a role model for good listening and demonstrate reciprocal conversation regularly. Practice active listening and demonstrate how to give undivided attention to the conversation.
  • Start young by reading together.  Invite questions and comment as you read, so your child has opportunities to practice listening and being listened to.  

A mom and a young girl gaze into each other's eyes

Talk every day

  • Find time to talk every day.  With a little time each day spent together and talking, your children will be practicing their communication skills.
  • Spend time one-on-one every week to build connection.  Learn about your children’s interests and show your support by expressing interest in what they love.
  • When your child talks about something that is bothering them, stop whatever you are doing and listen to them.  Let them share their feelings, and practice active listening by rephrasing what you heard them say.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own.  You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Observation and Reflection: keys to understanding your child

Sometimes you can learn a lot about a child by simply observing them in action. As adults, we often end up reacting to our children.  We know what needs to be done and how to do it, so we are quick to offer direction, tell them ‘no’ or ‘don’t’, or jump in and do it for them.

Yet, when we take the time to wait and watch and then reflect on what we’ve seen and heard, we gain insight into their needs and motives.  Our observation and reflection can make us better parents, by helping us see why they are behaving the way they are and what they are capable of.

Back when I was still in the classroom, I was having lunch with ten 2-year-olds.  We were gathered together around one large table. It was low to the ground, and each child sat in a small chair, feet firmly planted on the floor under the table.  I sat not quite so comfortably on a low stool at the same low table.

We each had a placemat, a plate, a glass of milk or water, a fork and a spoon.  Our food had been moved from lunch boxes to our plates and we used our forks, or fingers, as we ate and talked together.   Suddenly the child across the table from me swept his arm across his plate, accidentally knocking over his glass, which toppled and spilled its contents across the table.  My “oh!” burst forth, but then I stopped moving or speaking and simply observed what would happen next.  Group of preschool kids have a lunch in daycare. Children eating healthy food.

It was not easy to refrain from offering comment or advice, or leaping up to grab a towel and stop the flow of liquid. We are so wired to be helpful.  Often without even realizing we are doing it, we leap to assist. But something in that moment reminded me of the power of observation – and I waited.  

The toddler across the table took a moment to observe as well, and then pushed his chair back, exclaiming, “I’ll get a cloth!”.  He crossed the room, got a cleaning cloth from the stack on the shelf, returned with it in hand, and began to wipe up the spill. When he had finished, he took the wet cloth to the laundry basket and returned to his seat, smiling.  

He knew exactly what to do – without me needing to direct or advise – because he had observed me and the other children wiping up spills many, many times before that day.  By holding my tongue, he was given the opportunity bask in the pride of his own ability to solve the problem.  

Letting him fix the problem by waiting and observing let us both see that this young child was completely capable and needed no adult directing his actions.  

He sat back down and we shared a smile of satisfaction. He was proud of his ability to help and I was proud I’d chosen to observe and not rush in to fix it.

As adults, responsible for keeping our children safe, it isn’t easy to stop and watch or to wait and ‘see what happens.’  But practicing the art of observation, and taking time to reflect on what we observe, is a parenting skill that helps build strong relationships.

Observation: The What

As you observe your child in action, it isn’t necessary to take notes, document every action or utterance, or follow a prescribed checklist, although those things can sometimes add value.  "Observing can foster more positive relationships." quote by Kelly Griffith Mannion

Ask yourself, “What do I see and hear?”  Simply watch your child and notice how he interacts.   

Take note (either write it down or mentally file it away) of what is happening and how your child is responding to it.  Are there challenges? How do they meet those challenges? What do they choose when they are playing alone? What do they prefer when they are playing with others?  When do they become frustrated? How do they respond to the frustration? Patterns will emerge that will help you see what it is that results in perseverance and what leads to meltdown.  You will find underlying causes for mystifying behaviors.

“As parents, observing can be tough. We aren’t always objective. It can be hard to hang back, and it can be the last thing on our minds as we are busy multi-tasking and managing a busy family life. Yet, observing is truly the most illuminating gift—the gift of understanding our children,” notes Kelly Griffith Mannion, M. Ed.  

Reflection: The ‘So what’ and ‘What Next’

After observing, take time for reflection.  Reflecting on what you’ve observed helps you answer the question: “What does that mean to me?  What will I do with it?”

Reflection can help you make connections between behavior and what was going on inside the child.  As you reflect, try to identify what happened before, and what happened after. Is there a pattern?

Reflecting on the behaviors and emotions you observe in your child can deepen your understanding of your child’s inner life and create a greater connection.  Often as parents, we are in reactive mode, always trying to stay one step ahead of difficulties and challenges.  

Says Regina Pally, founder of the Center for Reflective Communities, “Reflective Parenting is a set of skills and guiding principles that encourage and support the use of Reflective Thinking in all the interactions parents have with their children. Reflective Parenting enables a parent to see the world from his or her own perspective and from their child’s perspective.” 

Taking time for observation and reflection helps us move from reactive parenting to reflective parenting.  Reflective parenting can foster positive relationships, allow for greater independence and growth in your child, and ensure greater satisfaction and fulfillment for you.

 

 

 

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own.  You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Take a break – you’ll get more done!

Hold on, I’ll be right back….

I’m going to go take a quick break, ‘cause you know, it’s just plain good for you.  

close up of a woman in a yoga poseI love a ‘To Do’ list.  I will add things I have just finished to my list, just so I can cross them off. At home or at work, there’s not much better than the sense of accomplishment when things come off the ‘To Do’ list. I feel productive, happy to be getting things done and making progress. 

The problem is that when I am not working through a list of projects, I get anxious about ‘wasting time.’  When I take a break, I fret about all the things I could be finishing, if only I were working the list. It is a struggle to relax.  

But neuroscience tells us that breaks and rest are a big Something for our health and mental well-being – and for being more productive.  Says Alex Pang, author of Rest: Why you get more done when you work less, “We need to rethink the relationship between work and rest, acknowledge their intimate connection, and rediscover the role that rest can play in helping us be creative and productive.”

His book describes the research that has been done on the relationship between rest,  productivity, and creativity. Much of this research examines how our conscious and subconscious work together during periods of effort and of rest.

Different kinds of rest opens pathways in different parts of our brain.  Building these pathways between the subconscious and conscious thought strengthens our ability to solve problems and get things done. 

In his book, Pang identifies four key concepts of productive rest:

  1. Rest and Work are partners, not adversaries
  2. Rest includes active behaviors, like hobbies and exercise and is not simply passive activities
  3. Rest is a skill that can be learned and improved
  4. Deliberate rest stimulates and sustains creativity and problem solving

Pang also describes three primary types of rest: 

  • Passive rest – lying on the couch, watching television, waiting in line
  • Physical activity – walking, enjoying a hobby, participating in a sport
  • Mental rest – napping, sleeping, meditating, day-dreaming

Rest benefits everyone – people in high-pressure jobs, artists and writers who are paid to be creative, and parents, who, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are spending an average of 7 hours every workday taking care of children.  Anyone who “works” at anything can benefit from incorporating deliberate periods of rest into their day. Says Pang, “[Rest] allows them to recover the mental and physical energy that they expend in those intensive [work] periods, but is also allowing their creative minds, their creative subconscious, to take up these problems and work on them more effectively.”

Pang asserts, “If you recognize that work and rest are two sides of the same coin, that you can get more from rest by getting better at it and that by giving it a place in your life you’ll stand a better chance of living the life you want, you’ll be able to do your job, and your life’s work, better.”

So how do we get the benefits that rest offers in lives that are overwhelmed with activity, with technology that keeps us tethered to our jobs 24/7, in a culture that values busyness and sees inactivity as laziness?  

Awareness

The first step is awareness.  We can start by recognizing the benefits of rest and trusting the promise that periods of rest can help us be more productive during our working hours.  Awareness helps counter the cultural negativity around resting.

Routine

Pang recommends that we organize our day so we have time for rest.  Create a routine that incorporates periods of effort and work, and periods of rest.  These rest periods can be passive (laying on the couch, reading a book) or active (taking a brisk walk, participating in a team sport, taking a yoga class).

Practice

And finally, practice.  Make sure there are periods of rest each and every day.  Some creative people work with a timer on their desk, setting the timer so that for 10 minutes of every hour they are up from their desk, away from the work.  They find that upon their return to the task, they are more productive than they would be had they slogged through the next hour without that period of time for their subconscious mind to mull over the task at hand.

Organize your day so you have time for both scheduled hours for focused intensive work and hours for rest – time for yourself for walks, naps, or hobbies which give your creative mind time to work.  

For rest to be most effective, says Pang, “You have to take it.”  

Most people are able to work at a high level of productivity for about 90 minutes to two hours at a time, and in fact for a total of 4-5 hours a day.  Says Pang, “If you can get a high level of work for that period, that’s actually a really good [productive] day.” 

So, about the pressure to keep working at that ‘To Do’ list?  Oh! Wait, I just had a great idea while I was taking a break! I’m going to add “take a break” to the To-Do list.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own.  You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Summer is a Great Time to Delegate

Do you have a teenager or two who find themselves at loose ends without the routine of the school day? Last summer, I found myself in just such a situation. The change in routine is a welcomed one, but for some children, the lack of structure can cause anxiety. 

I had two problems as summer break started last year. First, I really wanted to see my kids help more around the house. And secondly (and maybe more importantly), I wanted them to get away from the screens.

But then I had an idea that turned out to be the perfect solution for our family.  

I’ve never been good a sustaining the expectation that kids will do chores. They help, but in random and infrequent ways. But early last summer, I hit upon a sustainable and simplified version of a ‘chore chart’ which focused only on dinner. It invited the entire family to take responsibility for getting dinner onto — and off — the table each evening.

This simple chart gave everyone specific responsibilities every day.  And a routine for the lazy, unscheduled days of summer.

To create our family “dinner delegation” chart, I began by making a list of the four main elements of dinner prep and cleanup. I intentionally selected just four jobs since there are five of us in our household. This let me rotate everyone through the tasks every week and also gave one person ‘the night off’ each day.

Our four jobs were: Set the Table, Cook Dinner, Clear the Table, and Do the Dishes.  The number of jobs can be expanded or contracted to fit the number of people in the family.  For example, “Put Away Leftovers” could be added after “Clear the Table” if an additional job is needed. For us, one person did all the dishes, but “Load the Dishwasher” could be separate from the hand washed dishes in “Do the Dishes.” And there’s nothing saying people can’t be assigned more than one job each day. The chart can easily be modified to fit your particular family configuration. With our family of five, these four worked for us.

On our chart, the first column contains the jobs that need to be done. Then come the days of the week. I listed just Monday through Saturday, giving everyone Sunday ‘off’.  Some Sundays we ate out, on others dinner was ‘Do it Yourself’, but mostly I just did it all on Sunday, with help from whomever was inclined to assist.

After rows and columns were done, I added names, starting with job one on Monday and ending with job four on Saturday.  The resulting assignments looked something like this:

I posted this chart on a kitchen cabinet, where everyone could see what their assignment was each day. Assigned responsibility was a radical departure from the way we’ve always done it at our house – where I cooked dinner and hollered for someone to set the table when it was time to eat.  The change was awesome.

Because it was written down and posted, everyone knew what to expect. So there was no grumbling about doing the assigned job. The kids thoroughly enjoyed choosing the meal they would prepare and then fixing it for the family. (Full transparency: I helped with the cooking most nights at the beginning, as this was our youngest’s first real experience with using an oven and stove.)

One of my children is an overachiever. When it was her turn to set the table, it was often done mid-afternoon!

But things didn’t always go smoothly.  There were days when someone was not home for dinner. On these days, there would be much negotiating, with deals made to swap jobs or find coverage. This gave the kids an opportunity to practice their negotiation and compromise skills. Another benefit!

Does delagation sound like something that might work at your house? Here are some tips if you decide to embark on this adventure:

  1. You’ve got to be ok with giving up control of the menu planning. Choosing what to fix gives the kids practice at planning and follow-through, and builds confidence and enthusiasm. Cooking what someone else has chosen does not create the same excitement and is likely to be met with grumbling.
  2. You know your children best – give them support where they need it, help them learn and gain skills in the kitchen through effort and practice, then back off when they are able to do it independently. Delegating doesn’t completely eliminate the need to be in the kitchen during dinner preparation. I found I was able to work my way out of the kitchen as the summer progress, but at the beginning I needed to be available to support and coach.
  3. Grocery shopping is another opportunity to engage children in the mechanics of preparing for meals. We would assemble the week’s menus together on Saturday morning, so I could grocery shop for the week. Bringing them to the grocery store to participate in the gathering of ingredients is another job that could be partially delegated.

What do you think? Is there space for such a system in your family’s routine this summer? Last year, our new summer dinner strategy worked so well we are excited to implement it again this summer. In fact, I’m thinking it may become standard operating procedure throughout the year!

 

Social Connections Help Build Strong Families

Just before my first child was born my husband and I moved from New England to the Midwest.  We were young, newly married, and knew no one in our new hometown. All of our friends and family were thousands of miles away and we had a baby coming in a mere three months.

My husband’s new colleagues provided our first group of social connections.  To make new friends, we were intentional about attending church regularly. But it was the Welcome Wagon that really helped us build deep and lasting friendships.  They came with a list of ways to get connected.

Through them, I joined a Moms group (which included a babysitting co-op), we joined a card club and an International Dining group (potluck, a different country’s cuisine each month), and I started attending monthly La Leche League meetings, where I joined other new mothers for regular support after the baby was born.

All of these avenues of connection helped us build strong social connections and gave us a support system at a time when our old support network was very far away.  Our new friends could reassure us when we felt overwhelmed as new parents. They offered advice, entertainment, and babysitting. They helped us feel welcome and cared for in our new community.

Social connections are one of the five protective factors for strong families.  (You can see the other four here.) Friends can lend support when we are overwhelmed or just need a different perspective.  Others who are facing similar challenges can provide a listening ear or childcare assistance while you run to the doctor. When you have emotionally supportive friends, life gets easier – for you and for your children.

Here are some options for making connections with other parents in and around Corvallis:

HOME group. Meets at Northwest Hills Community Church, Tuesdays from 9:15 – 11:15 during the school year.  For moms with children 5 yrs and under. Childcare is provided while moms gather for fellowship and learning.  Emphasis is on equipping moms through gifted speakers, hands-on activities, and building a community of support through friendship.  https://www.helpingourmoms.com/

Osborn Aquatic Center.  Sign up the kiddos for swim lessons!  Parents participate in class with their youngest swimmers.  But as the children progress to independent lessons, parents watch from the bleachers – where they can visit with like-minded parents.

Corvallis-Benton County Public Library.  Activities for children and adults alike offer opportunities for parents to connect with other parents through shared activity.  In addition to the usual story hours and children’s reading clubs, the library also offers events just for adults. Looking for something to do without the kids?  Check out https://cbcpubliclibrary.net/events/adult-events/

Parenting Classes.  Check out The Incredible Years, for parents of preschoolers, or Make Parenting a Pleasure for those with older children.  Learn some new communication strategies and meet new friends in the process.  Many classes are free, with dinner and childcare provided. Details can be found here: https://www.parentingsuccessnetwork.org/parenting-programs/

Mid-Willamette YMCA. Offers programs for children and adults, such as their monthly Lunch and Learn, which is an opportunity to listen to a speaker while enjoying lunch with other attendees.

Community Events.  Corvallis has a long tradition of holding family-friendly community events –   like Benton County Fair in August, Fall Festival in September, and Downtown trick-or-treat in late October.  For more, visit: https://www.visitcorvallis.com/festivals-events

Other ways to make social connections:

Volunteer – in your children’s school, through a faith-based organization, or with an organization whose mission you support.  Watch for invitations to volunteer on social media, or reach out to an organization directly.

Join a Group – find a group of other adults doing something you love (biking, hiking, reading, knitting).  Attend their regular meetings and build friendships around your common interest. During the summer months parents in Corvallis hold regular meet-ups at community parks.  The kids spend time together while the parents visit with each other.

Reach out – to your family and your friends.  Plan get-togethers, invite them over for coffee or a meal.  Be intentional about building strong relationships with those you already know.

Strengthening your relationships outside your family can provide concrete support when you need it most and will strengthen your family at the same time.

 

Be a Better Parent: Step Away

Taking time away from parenting can make you a better parent.  Sounds ironic, but it’s true. Taking a step away from parenting responsibilities gives body and mind a chance to recharge.  And that time spent focusing on your own needs can improve your parenting.

So much changes when you become a parent.  You still need to eat, sleep, and most likely earn a living.  But when that fragile newborn is placed in your arms they are suddenly the center of your universe.

In those early weeks, our life is on hold as we cocoon with our newborn.  We are wired to attend to their needs. In the middle of the night, they need to eat and so we give up our own need for sleep to meet those needs.   We juggle learning to parent while trying to resume all the other aspects of our life before baby. As we meet their needs for food, sleep, and dry diapers, it is easy to forget to take care of ourselves.

But prioritizing self-care can make you a better parent.  The same sleep, exercise, nutrition, and healthy relationships kids need are just as important for adults.  When we attend to our needs – physical needs for exercise and mental needs for healthy social engagement – we improve our state of mind.  

And being healthy and happy has a direct effect on our parenting.  When we are well-rested and know we have taken care of ourselves, we have the energy and enthusiasm to be our best for our children.

Taking care of ourselves also models well-being for our children.   When our children see that we also do things for ourselves – and with other adults – we teach what taking care of ourselves looks like.   We can help them recognize their needs for quiet or rest, if they see us recognizing and meeting our own needs for those same things. And we help them learn patience, gratitude,  and grace.

If you’ve neglected yourself while caring for your children, you can begin to make a change in your self-care by carving out some time each day just for you.  It doesn’t need to be a lot of time. Some days, it may be minutes you capture between scheduled activities. Other days, a whole afternoon can be scheduled “me” time.

When my big kids were young, I belonged to a babysitting co-op that allowed me and other young mothers to share childcare.  I would earn hours by watching someone else’s children, which could be redeemed by having someone else watch mine. It was a beautiful barter system that allowed us all time for self-care, without incurring the expense of hiring a babysitter.  It gave me an entire afternoon to pursue a hobby, or just sit with a book uninterrupted.

Mindfulness

Taking care of ourselves begins with being aware of how we are feeling, both physically and emotionally. Mindfulness helps us see how different stressors affect us.  It helps us identify those things that help us cope most effectively. Mindfulness can be as simple as pausing for a deep breath. These few seconds can create space for stress hormone regulators to slow the ‘fight or flight’ response caused by triggers in our environment.

Carve out time for yourself

Find moments of time in your day to focus on your own well-being.  In the early weeks of a newborn’s life, new moms are encouraged to sleep when the baby sleeps.  As children grow, we are tempted to do that ‘one more thing’ that needs to be done before we take time for ourselves.  Make it a habit to find time for yourself. Take turns with your partner so that each of you has one night a week to go out and enjoy a class, engage in a hobby, or just be alone or with friends at the library or coffee shop.

Take up (or resume) a hobby – something you do just for you

Having an activity or two that you do just for you gives you space to be you. Doing something you love, that satisfies and excites, gives you something outside of family life.  If that something is a group activity, it has the added benefit of enlarging your circle of support – friends and acquaintances who are there for you. Self-care directed toward group activities can expand  your circle of connection and support life-long learning and growing.

For more ideas on finding ways to care for yourself despite your hectic schedule, check out Ashley Looker’s wonderful list of self-care tips: 20 Little Self-Care Tips at MindBodyGreen.

 

The Power of Attunement

I was sitting in the lobby as a parent was departing with their young child.  The parent stopped at the front desk, engaging in a conversation with the adult on the other side of the desk.  While they talked, the little girl noticed a slip of paper on the floor, across the room, not far from a waste basket.  As the parent continued in conversation, the child toddled over to the piece of paper and picked it up. She started toward the waste can just as the parent finished and turned their attention to the child.

“Come now, we need to go to the car,” the parent said striding over to the child and taking her  hand. The small child immediately wailed, resisting the pull toward the door. Unaware of the child’s intention to deposit the litter in the wastebasket, the parent proceeded to cajol the child, exasperated by their uncooperative behavior.

From my vantage point, it was easy to see why the child was being uncooperative.  But the parent had not seen the litter, or the little girl’s determination to “help”.  It was a perfect example of the importance of attunement.

Had the parent taken just a moment after completing their conversation to observe what the child was doing, they might have seen that the child was simply completing a small task they had independently begun.  Had the parent waited a few more seconds, just until that small piece of paper had been deposited into the trash can, I have no doubt the child would have happily walked out the door, all smiles and cooperation.

Attunement is the attention we give the mood and emotional needs of another human being.  Attunement parenting focuses on how well a parent recognizes and interprets their child’s needs, moods and emotions in order to respond appropriately.  Well attuned parents of infants are able to interpret their baby’s feelings and respond appropriately.

Attunement is facilitated by attention.  In order to accurately interpret another’s emotional or physical needs, one must first be paying attention.  If we are attuned to another person, we will have noticed what happened and be able to see the context within which that person’s need is being expressed.

Attunement requires our attention, but, as Nathalie Spencer observes, “Attunement is not simply undivided attention; it is both more and less than that.  It does not mean a parent giving in to every whim of a child. But it is the understanding of needs, and a response to those needs which ultimately help the other to regulate their emotions and arousal.  It is bringing someone up when they need some stimulation, and bringing them down when they need calming.”

Attunement is different from Attachment Parenting in that Attachment parenting uses continuous physical closeness and touch to promote the emotional engagement and connection between an infant and parent. Parents practicing attachment parenting carry their babies in a sling on their body as much as possible.  Often they co-sleep with their infants. The physical closeness of the infant to the parent supports the emotional attachment between the parent and child. Where attachment parenting focuses on physical closeness, attunement focuses on our attention to the emotions of the other.

It is easy to miss the cues about a child’s emotional needs when we are not paying attention.  This frequently leads to emotional disconnect and frustration, both ours and theirs. With so many things vying for our attention, it is easy to be unattuned to the people we are physically with.  Our mobile phones make us always accessible, so we push the stroller while handling the work call – with no opportunity to attune to the child who sees a plane in the sky and exclaims excitedly, “plane!”.

Neuroscience research has confirmed our brains are not wired for multi-tasking.  In fact, multi-tasking does not make us more efficient. Instead, it makes us worse at both of the things we are trying to accomplish.  Parents who try to multitask while in the company of their children do not give the children – or the other task – the full benefit of their time and attention.  Attunement suffers and often frustration ensues.

When choose to attend to one at a time, we stand a better chance of being attuned to our children’s emotional state.   And being better attuned – paying attention – gives us a better chance of meeting the needs or navigating the ‘no’. Attunement makes us better informed because we have observed and are paying attention.

 

What if She Isn’t Like Me?

Today’s blog post is contributed by guest blogger, Esther Schiedel.  We hope you enjoy the read, and we appreciate Esther’s willingness to write for us!

I wrote a while ago about parenting a child who shared some of my characteristics that I wish were different. She’s Not Me  https://www.parentingsuccessnetwork.org/parenting_tips/2018/shes-not-me/

This is the flip side of that concern.

I worried from time to time, as many parents do, about my children’s behavior—comparing them with other children their age, wondering if they could meet the expectations of school, and of society in general. Unlike some children I knew, my middle daughter was cautious and reserved around most people, children and adults alike. This was especially true when these were people she did not know. And included relatives she saw only occasionally—which, since we did not live near family, was all of them. We used to joke that she wanted to see your resume and three references before talking to you.

And she and I had different ways of learning—my attempts at teaching her something often ended in frustration on both our parts. Fortunately, while discussing these concerns with my husband, we both realized that she is a lot like him. Those similarities did not always contribute positively to their relationship, but once he recognized them, it helped a lot.

Now I love and respect my husband and he is a competent adult. But what if he wasn’t? What if I didn’t like him?

What happens when a parent sees a behavior in their child which is like that of a relative who has problems functioning successfully? Or their relationship with that relative is not a positive one?

The relative might be the other parent, or might be a sibling, grandparent, or other relation. In such cases a parent might over-react to that behavior. Which does NOT help.

What does help?

* Identifying what our reaction is based on. Sometimes we react without knowing why. We may have simply forgotten or we may have repressed traumatic memories. It might take serious self-examination or the help of a therapist to recognize why we have a strong response to some behaviors.

* Increasing our awareness of temperamental traits. A trait is not a behavior but a reason behind a behavior. In my daughter’s case, the trait is termed First Reaction; it describes whether a child approaches or withdraws from a new situation. It’s also referred to as Leaper or Watchful. Neither of these reactions to new situations or people is good or bad, but each can lead to behaviors which could cause problems. When we understand temperament we can help a child learn to behave in socially acceptable and safe ways. Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka is a helpful resource for parents

* Paying attention to the whole child. Making an issue out of one trait or behavior exaggerates its importance and can make things worse. Your relationship with the child is more important.

* Reminding ourselves that similarities to another person do not indicate that a child will grow up to be just like that person. Many, many things contribute to children’s and adult’s personalities, abilities, and behavior.

Parenting classes can provide more information and perspective on child development and temperament. They offer lots of techniques for dealing with behaviors.

And by the way, my cautious daughter is still cautious. She’s also a competent and wonderful adult.

My To-Do List

While the Parenting Success Network works to hire another full-time blogger for this site, members of the Parenting Education staff at LBCC are going to be “guest blogging”.  This week’s guest blogger is LeAnne Trask, the Pollywog Database and Social Media Coordinator.  LeAnne and her husband, Terry, are the parents of three college-age sons.

As a young mom, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out a “plan” for raising my children.  What did I want them to grow up knowing?  What did I want them to believe?  What skills were they going to need?  What kind of things did my kids need to be prepared for?  What kind of Mom was I going to be?

Then, one day, I overhead a woman in my office talking about a “list” that her sister had created for each of her children.  I LOVE lists, and I barraged her with questions about this list.  A few days later, her sister called our office and my co-worker handed me the phone, and I introduced myself to Carol.  I asked her to tell me about her lists, and Carol explained that she believed that there were things that her children needed to know, needed to be able to do, needed to be sure about, before they left her home–just like I did!  I asked for examples.  Carol said that she believed that each of her children should play a musical instrument–well.  She wanted her son to be an Eagle Scout.  She wanted each of her children to find a sport that they loved, and be good at it.  She wanted her children to be able to cook a breakfast, a lunch, and a dinner–well.  She wanted her children to be able to sew, and not just a button!  Carol told me many more things that she had on her lists, and I took lots of notes.

What a great gift Carol gave me!  When an experienced mother shares her thoughts with a new mother, it gives us “fresh eyes” for looking at our situation and setting our goals.  Her idea of using a to-do list for each of her kids was perfect for me because I was already a list-maker.  One of the beauties of using this strategy is that list-making gives back a sense of control, plus there is a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment in crossing things off your list.

I went home that night, and I started creating lists for each of my sons.  Over the years, things have been added to those lists, and a few things removed from the lists, but overall, they were the game plan we used to raise our children.  I took some of the things that Carol had on her list, like the importance of being an Eagle Scout and learning a musical instrument, and I added things that were personal to me, like attending Church regularly and participating in service projects.  Learning to cook became a way of life at our house, and all of my sons know how to change their oil and tie a necktie!

Over the years, many mothers have given me advice and shared their experiences–good and bad–and I am grateful for every one of those shared experiences.  I feel like we gave our kids not just a home and a place to hang their hat, but the benefit of our experience and the best of our knowledge.  My hope is that we turned out kids that were as prepared for life as we could make them.