Babywatching for Empathy
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What we do and how we do it.

B.A.S.E. aims to promote sensitivity and empathy and reduce aggression and fear.

Once a week a mother brings her very young baby to a school classroom, for 20-30 minutes. Mother and baby do whatever is needed: playing, sleeping, feeding, changing, crying, soothing, enjoying being together. The children watch. If father can sometimes visit, it is helpful and interesting for the children to experience the different ways in which each parent behaves towards their baby. A Group Leader asks the children questions that encourage them to look carefully and notice how parent and baby signal to each other and attune to each other’s needs, motivation and feelings. All the children's observations are received with interest by the Group Leader as they watch the parent and baby and experience how a secure attachment relationship develops.

Most children want to share and talk about what interests them, some finding it hard to take turns. Other, quieter children learn as they listen and compare what they hear with their own internal thoughts and feelings.They all learn from the parent and baby and from each other through what they notice and hear, encouraged by the Group Leader's support. When mother and baby are quiet there is an important opportunity for the children to be silent, listen carefully and learn how mother and baby 'talk' to each other. As the children become more sensitive to the baby’s feelings, and to their own, feelings of hostility and anxiety are reduced.

Often a short discussion follows the Babywatching session, giving more opportunities for children to express their ideas and learn from each other’s growing empathy. Or they may draw and write in their Babywatching folders – almost always writing or drawing with enthusiasm. If the Group Leader is also their teacher, trained with B.A.S.E. Babywatching, there are many opportunities during the week to help the children reflect on what they noticed during Babywatching, and integrate the empathic responses they felt part of when watching mother and baby in their classroom. The class visits continue until the baby is walking and too adventurous to be contained in the circle!

Newly trained Group Leaders are supported by a Mentor who is available for consultation and visits. This apprenticeship model is an important part of the collaborative learning that is central to Babywatching. When experienced, the Group Leader can train as a Mentor, often becoming the Mentor for their school.

Checklist of what and how:

  • Headteacher decides to try Babywatching, or a trained Group Leader already on the staff, instigates action.
  • Senior staff and SENCO identify suitable class or group - and discuss Babywatching's fit with PSHE curriculum.
  • Teacher(s) attend one day of Babywatching Group Leader training.
  • Mentor chosen from the Babywatching list, to support ongoing training while running a Group.
  • Identify a pregnant mother willing to bring her baby to a Group when born, or a mother with very young baby.
  • Invite mother/father and young baby to visit class once a week for as long as possible until baby is walking.
  • Teacher/Group Leader prepares the class for observing a parent and baby.
  • Teacher supports children in filling Child 7+ SDQ Questionnaires.
  • Group Leader runs the Group for two terms or three if possible, supported by the Mentor.
  • Engage the children in when to end the observations; e.g. baby about to walk, parent about to return to work.
  • Children bid farewell to parents and baby.
  • Children helped to process their feelings about ending.
  • Children fill a second Child SDQ to create before/after measurement of effectiveness of Babywatching. ​
  • Mentor invites a skilled Group Leader with the relevant experience to train as the school's Mentor.
  • Babywatching groups are typically run for a whole class, but are also very effective in smaller group settings.

What children notice, how they express what they notice and feel, and how they express what they think the baby or the parent may feel, often startles their teachers; they marvel at the children’s depth of insight and connection. Children who have previously been too shy to contribute ideas, or others who have rarely shown sensitivity, find words that clearly show their engagement and empathy. Visitors to Babywatching groups often comment on how focussed the children are, how fascinated they are watching the mother and baby, and how they clearly regard them as an important part of their community. Mothers consistently say how much they enjoy the experience; babies seem to revel in the calm time with their mothers' or fathers' undivided attention. They also respond with delight to the children’s smiles of admiration when they achieve some new skill. Teachers and others who become Group Leaders find the experience deeply rewarding, full of unexpected and creative moments.

Babywatching is deceptively simple, and provides powerful opportunities for learning by doing.