Babywatching for Empathy
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Sent by PAUL CUTLER, Grafton and Oaktree Babywatching UK Group Leader and Mentor, and UKCP registered Child Psychotherapist.

My eldest son had B.A.S.E. ® Babywatching classes when he was in year 1 in 2015/16 and absolutely loved them. A mother and her little baby girl would visit his class each week, and the children would “watch” the two of them. My son would look forward to these visits, talk about them more than anything else at school, and his enthusiasm was particularly delightful for us as his parents because we were hoping to have another baby ourselves.
The classes were designed to build empathy, and for my six-year-old boy with a penchant for maths and Lego they really did seem to make a huge difference. He wondered about this little girl and her mother, reported all the stages of development that he witnessed, and took in all the minutiae of babyhood wide-eyed with wonder.

So, when I did eventually find myself pregnant with our third baby I called the school and asked if they’d like a fresh mother/baby subject for another class. I’d assumed it was a routine (and brilliant) thing that the school rolled out, but it turned out that my baby and I were the second baby watching class they had ever held.
H (known as “Baby H” by the fabulous Reception class we came to know so well) was born in February 2017 and we started the classes when he was 6 weeks old. We went in for 30 minutes once a week. The class sat round on the carpet and watched as I held H, fed him, played and sang with him. A couple of times he slept through the whole session, sometimes he screamed his head off (because babies do!) and once - possibly the highlight for the class - he did a poo and I had to change his nappy.
What made the sessions so valuable was that they were led by the school psychologist, Paul Cutler. I didn’t say a word (apart from addressing Baby H). Paul encouraged all the children to consider carefully what the baby and I were doing and what our actions might mean about how we were feeling. A typical interaction would follow like this:
Paul: What is the baby doing now?
Child 1: He is smiling and holding his mummy’s hand.
Paul: That’s right, well done. Why do you think he is holding her hand?
Child 1: He likes to hold it.
Paul: Yes, and why do you think that is?
Child 1: He likes to be sure she is still there.
Paul: I think you’re right, yes. Why do you
think he likes to know she is there?

Child 2: Because it makes him feel happy.
Child 3: His mummy makes him feel good.
Paul: If you were the baby on your mummy’s lap and holding her hand, how would you feel?
Child 1: I would feel happy.
Paul: How would you show that?
Child 1: I would smile - like Baby H is doing now.
Child 2: He is happy because he knows his mummy is there and he is safe.
Pause - (in which I marvel at it all)
Child 4: HE DID A BURP!!

Paul was incredibly talented at including all the children in the class and drawing out their understanding of these very normal day-to-day emotions. Labelling them, working through from “holding a hand and smiling” to concepts of “happiness and security”.
I found the sessions incredibly valuable to me as a mother. H is my third child and I was very busy and tired on my third maternity leave. This time each week gave me the chance to stop and reflect on my baby, his development and our relationship. The analysis of a reception class constantly surprised and delighted me, and I noticed how quickly they developed from the basic observation - “he has opened his eyes” comments to the “he is looking at all the children because we are really interesting and loud” analysis. Watching 30 children grow their empathy and understanding of emotion is a massive privilege.

They also taught me (things): notably when he started teething, they didn’t assume he was in pain, but that he must be very excited about getting big teeth (not an assumption many adults make), which was eye-opening and lovely.
I would recommend taking part in Babywatching to any parent, though I would suggest that it would be easier for a second or third time parent rather than with a first baby. My husband took H for a couple of sessions too, because it felt very important to us that the class should see a father interacting with his baby and how subtly different his ways of showing love and security are.
We finished the sessions when H was around 7 months old and starting to crawl really well because he was way too active a subject! But I cannot go to the library or the park without bumping into one of those children and they cry out “It’s Baby H!” and race over to see him. As the third child in a big family, it’s really lovely that Babywatching has already carved out a role for him in our community and school - he certainly doesn’t sit in his older siblings’ shadows! So we have all benefitted from it: our baby, his parents and the whole class of children.