Sensitive Observation IS the RIE® Method. Grounded in respect, authenticity and trust, the manner of which we come to understand our infants’ communications, needs and personality is through observation.
Sensitive observation is a skill that requires time, patience and practice. It is more mindful than just watching and certainly doesn’t include your phone. And it’s crucial to remember this:
The more you do the less you observe.
Sensitive observation is like a meditation where we become the learner and open to the baby being the teacher. It’s waiting and watching with genuine curiosity but without preconception. Ultimately, by doing so, we accept that we don’t have all the answers and know of all the things. The agenda belongs to the baby and it is our role to simply watch closely.
To say this is a humbling practice is an understatement.
Sensitive observation is not just about the baby, it’s also about us. It’s a practice where we report what we see without filtering through the lens of our interpretations. It is an opportunity to notice our inclination to respond, motivate, help and assist while simultaneously recognizing our own triggers, emotions, projections and fears. It illuminates our assumptions and the inherent need we all feel to always “do something.”
When done consistently over time, sensitive observation allows us to teach less and instead, provide an environment that is conducive for learning, creating self-reliant, creative and independent thinking.
When we carefully observe, we come to understand our babies more intimately. We function from a reflective place instead of reactionary. It is the ultimate yoga practice.
This strengthens our ability to determine truthfully if our baby needs us at any given moment and if so, in what capacity. We can take cues from the child, maintain an open interest and allow the observation to inform the intervention, if it happens that we intervene at all.
It is important to pause long enough to observe who’s need is being served, the mother/parent or the child. The answer isn’t always clear but the more attuned we become, the more accurately we sense and then respond accordingly. We send the message to our kids that we are here, we are available, we are paying attention. This creates such a deep security and sense of trust and enables our children to be both confident and competent.
Just to be clear, I don’t sit around and observe my child all day. Sometimes we play together, sometimes she plays independently and sometimes I choose to observe her. I think it’s an ongoing mixture of these different scenarios where I typically find my observations are scattered throughout the day versus and extended period of time. However, in a RIE® parent infant class, there will be stretches up to 20-30 minutes where everyone is participating in sensitive observation and totally allowing the children to do their thing.
For me personally, I learn a lot when I take a step back and let go of my own agenda and need to teach. I see my daughter in a way that I would miss if I was fully engaged in the world of play (my own ways of doing things seep in) or half paying attention while scrolling through my phone (which is not really being present). So it’s important to remember to make a conscious effort to do this just like you would a meditation practice. Give yourself the permission and space to mindfully slow down, do less and enjoy the moment watching how your child operates in the world.
You will be amazed at what you discover when you take a step back long enough to see it!