Many of you reading this have taken classes with me before and so have heard me speak about working out of observation with your child. The reason working out of observation is important is because, when we come into the present moment with our children we can see what is happening instead of what we think is happening. This is really important because we will never be able to effectively work with our children if we don’t work out of clarity of what the situation really is. Now you will know that you are not working out of observation if you feel: panicked, stressed, sad, hurried, tired, or confused. If you feel any of these dissatisfying feelings that means that you are not sure what is going on or how you should act in the situation. When you begin to work out of observation and your child starts to loose it in any manner of ways you will know that you are working out of observation when you stay calm and interested in what is going on.
Now you might say: Okay Kyle, I’m working out of observation. I am present with my child. I feel calm and interested, but I still don’t know what to do in the moment when my child is inconsolable.
A lot of the time, if we are in the moment with the child, the moment itself will show us what to do. It will become obvious to us that our child needs to eat, or is tired and needs to go home, or has been inside too long and needs to go outside, or just needs to be held by a calm grown-up who is able to regulate their own energy. The more that you have a daily rhythm that you and your child can count on the less mysterious the day to day upsets will be. Time and space hold us and our children. The more we can count on the unfolding of the day in rhythmic timing and the more the space is an environment we can negotiate well and our child can self-initiate into the better off we will be.
Let’s say that you have all this down. You have a rhythm that you know is good. You have a space that you have been really conscious about. You and your child move well in the space. She can put her own shoes away neatly and she can tidy up toys at the end of the day because there aren’t too many and it is clear where they live when not in use. Still really dissatisfying moments are happening daily. Then what?
99% of unsatisfying behavior happens because poor habits have been cultivated without you even knowing that it has been happening. This happens mostly because hardly anyone has any framework of human development from which to work from with their children. It is important that we begin to gain an understanding of where our children are in their development because then we can create rightful expectations for them.
A lot of the time we give our children too many choices. We do this out of our good intentions. We want to respect their dignity as a human being and so we give them choices:
Do you want something to eat? Do you want cheese?
What do you want to drink?
Are you ready to go?
To be able to make a choice requires the faculty of judgement. Which is a capacity that has not been born in them yet. The capacity for judgement can only begin to develop once the human being has experienced themselves as an individual in relationship to the world and this is not the place we find the young child in developmentally. The young child can surely demonstrate personal preferences and this can create the appearance of judgement. However, a true experience of judgement requires that the human being must be conscious of self in a way the young child is not.
Ultimately, by offering choices, we as parents, create situations that will result in us behaving with our children in a way that contradicts our desire to respect their dignity as human beings. We have created a habit life with them where they are asked their opinion and they become used to this dynamic. Inevitably, we will find ourselves in circumstances that necessitate our child do something because it needs to be done - we need to go pick Mamma up at the airport and the child doesn’t want to get into the car seat. Our child might start to object because their preference is not being honored. Then we find ourselves in a position where we are bargaining with them emotionally or forcing them physically. Children are not rational. They do not have the capacity to be self-aware enough to understand these situations cognitively and then have enough self-awareness to be able to put their preferences aside because the situation calls for that capacity. That is a skill set that only an adult can meet developmentally.
If we constantly ask our children what they think, what they want or if they are ready instead of deciding what needs to happen and proceeding with our child from a place of certainly then this habit will allow children to develop in a way that they will be unable to perceive or receive boundaries from ourselves, other grownups, or their peers.
Our children are in a primary relationship with their bodies. They are developing a relationship with their physical bodies and their environment. There are three doorways into the human being- physical/doing life, emotional/feeling life and thinking life. During early childhood, we as adults, always want to take the doorway through the child’s physical/doing life. This can seem confusing to adults because of course children have feelings and thoughts. Children demonstrate this to us all the time and we as adults are more comfortable working through the doorways into the human being via feelings or thoughts, because this is how we relate to other grownups. The reason this will be an unsatisfying way of working with the young child is, the young child does not have is a self-conscious relationship to these other doorways yet.
What does it mean to work with our child’s physical/doing life? First of all we need to begin to cultivate confidence in our own perception and judgment when it comes to making decisions for our child. For example, if you know it is cold outside and your child needs a coat then offer the coat to them and say: We are going outside now. Time to put on our coats. Developing new language with your child is essential. It will take practice to do this if you have been in the habit of asking questions. If your child objects because they don’t want to put on the coat, now it is time to work through an imaginative picture. The imaginative picture will help your child with the movement of their bodies. The imaginative picture helps your child self-initiate into what needs to happen. Offer your child her coat - hold it out and say: Dive into the ocean. These two images are there side by side, diving into the ocean and diving into the coat sleeve. This is something your child feels and understands deeply with their body. Through this relationship with their body and through the movement of the imaginative picture they can move into putting on their coat.
What does it mean to work out of imagination in relationship to our children? First, we need to understand what working out of imagination means. Using Imagination means that you are working out of living pictures that are in relationship to what actually is happening in the moment and what your child is actually capable of doing. If you are putting on socks, that is what is happening, and saying: Let’s put those pigs in a blanket is using an imaginative picture that your child can use so they can initiate into the activity.
These are three cognitive steps in this process:
What is happening?- observation
What can happen?- developmental understanding of the situation
What is the picture that can cause forward movement?- imagination
Optimally you are working out of what I would call an alternating current between observation and imagination. Knowledge of human development is the fulcrum point between the two. This leads to forming right expectation for our children. Your observation of your child is what will guarantee that your child’s dignity is protected. When you work out of observation you are not forcing your will on the child. Instead you are creating expectations that you know your child can accomplish. Children know from birth when an adult is creating appropriate forms into which they can self-initiate. Imagination means that you are in relationship to your child’s doing.
All of this takes practice. Its best to give this practice your full love and attention. And, take it easy on yourself because this work takes the kind of practice athletes devote to their sports. You have to be all in. Muscle and stamina have to be built for this kind of work. Accept where you are, practice, and know you will get better with practice.