Babywatching for Empathy
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28/11/19
Sent by HESTER SMITH, Babywatching UK Group Leader and Mentor​​​​​​

My baby and I both thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being part of the team - along with our lovely Babywatching leader - who took Babywatching to the Year 5 class.
We started on a cold and wet January day, when she was five and a half months - the same day incidently that she first managed to just about sit upright by herself! We managed to keep our sessions going right up until the end of the academic school year - luckily she was a late crawler, so although she was nearly 1 year by the time we finished, she was only just beginning to want to crawl to the children in these last few sessions!

It has been an amazing experience to have baby J watched so intently by the children and to see our interactions through their eyes. I was fascinated by how certain children were able to attune to her needs. I remember one instance where she began to clap her hands - I began clapping too - and all the children spontaneously began to clap as well. It was very powerful to be a part of. Moreover, the look of amazement in her eyes was so wonderful - a sort of “look what I have managed to start all by myself!” Equally wonderful though, was a few moments later. The children had become really quite excited and the energy in the room was escalating. One small boy suddenly said loudly “I think we need to be quiet now - she looks like it’s getting a bit much for her”. I think he saw this even before I got there myself - and I think he was absolutely spot on with his understanding of her in that moment. Such is the power of Babywatching.

The child I won’t forget is one who was a looked-after child and had often been excluded from the classroom when we arrived for our session. This allowed him the chance to see us alone. Without my ever mentioning it, he picked up on the one thing that I have found really difficult as a mother: my little girl’s battle with eczema. Each week he would check what he could see of her skin and comment on what he saw or ask about how the eczema was. I was really moved by his kindness. As the weeks progressed, it felt as if he developed a very special relationship with both me and my baby, in these momentary exchanges.

I am so glad that we were able to be a part of Babywatching - both for me and for my daughter. There is something very powerful about being observed - just being - with my little one, by a whole class of children. There’s something extremely validating in being witnessed, even in the sessions when nothing particularly profound was said. More often than not, I would leave with a little skip in my step that wasn’t necessarily there before the session. When profound, insightful moments did occur, I found that they stayed with me for days - and sometimes weeks - afterwards.

As for my baby, she loved the whole process from beginning to end. When we started, she wasn’t that aware of the children as such, but she was aware of being in a different environment and one where she received a very particular type of attention from me! As she grew, my sense was that she loved the energy in the room. And gradually she began to be more and more interested in the children. She is a wonderfully gregarious little being, and I do wonder whether our weekly Babywatching sessions have had a large part to play in the development of what an outgoing little character she has become. I am forever thankful that we got to be part of such a wonderful venture.
29/11/18
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.