The Power of Observation

I take guitar lessons with a local studio.  As part of that experience I participate in “band class,” where we learn how to put together different songs—it’s great ensemble work.  Every once in awhile, we play out in public.  A couple of months ago, one of my friends, an accomplished musician, came to see our band perform.  Afterwards, he gave me some very specific observations, such as, “You all stayed exactly on beat, and I was very moved by listening to your version of Landslide.  You threw in a little country lick on that one song, too, I noticed.”

While he could have said, “You guys did great,” he refrained from giving us any judgment of “good” or “bad.”  Often, when I hear, “You guys did great,” something happens inside me that mistranslates such praise—I often think, ”Yeah, but you’re just saying that.”  By having him tell us what he noticed in particular about his performance, without judgment, I felt completely elated at what we had accomplished.  I knew that he had been listening intently, and I knew what things in particular we had done really well.  Nothing was mistranslated in my brain, and I walked away having courage to do even better and believe in myself as a guitarist.

Becky Bailey, in her book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline: The 7 Basic Skills for Turning Conflict into Cooperation, writes about children’s innate desire to be seen, rather than judged.  (My experience playing the guitar that night goes to show that this desire probably doesn’t go away when one becomes an adult.)  She goes on to explain: “Noticing children is an excellent way to encourage them.  Describe what you see to your child and leave her free to make her own evaluations of her efforts or accomplishments” (pg. 130).

What I find even more amazing is that, according to Dr. Bailey’s work, when we notice children, we “stimulate their frontal lobes.”  (pg. 130) Why is this important?  The frontal lobe of our brain is responsible for reasoning—it can help regulate the emotional part of our brain, or the amygdala.  The more developed our frontal lobe is, the easier it is for us to calm ourselves when we’re upset.  The ability to calm ourselves is critical.  Of course, for preschoolers it means fewer or less intense tantrums.  But even into adulthood, when the consequences of being upset can be more devastating, regulating emotions also helps with addiction or anger management, for starters.

Dr. Bailey gives us three steps, a little script, to help us notice our children and give constructive encouragement (pp 131-2).  Of everything I have learned from this book, I believe that these three steps have been the most helpful.

1. Call your child by name, or use “you.”  [I have found it’s helpful to say, “Look at you!”—It puts some enthusiasm in my voice.]

2. Describe what you see your child doing.  [Just this morning I said to my oldest daughter, “I noticed the other day that you needed to have a black leotard washed for school.  You remembered what your teacher asked of you, you got your laundry sorted and started, and you waited around to switch the laundry!”  It helps me, too, when I can be as descriptive as possible about what I noticed.  Realizing just how much effort my daughter put into completing this task on her own allows me to take a moment of mindfulness, in gratitude for the young woman she is becoming, and in awe of what she is capable of doing.]

3. End with a tag—a little note about the value or attribute that you are trying to instill in your child: “That was a lot of hard work,” or “That was very thoughtful.  Thanks!”

As for you parents and caregivers at our studio, here’s an observation: I notice many of you bringing your children to class and getting excited with them at the things they are doing.  You engage in bonding with your kids, and I see how you are attentive to their needs.  You have courage to crawl around on the floor with your little ones, and make silly faces when Miss Carol asks us.  Such a thing really adds to my Kindermusik experience.  Thanks for being a part of the Song of the Heart family!

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