Whole Body Listening

Nikky Smedley (Guest Blog)

Helping your attachment with your toddler

Nurturing and being responsive to babies is important as it helps to reinforce attachment and bonding. The part of the brain responsible for experiencing and expressing emotion develops from the way in which parents interact with their baby. A nurturing environment is vital for healthy brain development, emotional development and in forging relationships. A parent/career nurturing their child and attuning their emotional state to the baby’s helps the infant to balance emotional responses. Sometimes as your baby gets older this can become more difficult

Read our guest blog by Nikky Smedley,  which gives some wonderful advice of how to be more responsive to your toddler:

“A good friend of mine has a 1-year-old, and in reflection of her first twelve months of motherhood, she told me that she’d really struggled with learning greater patience - in particular with relation to her son’s frustration when he fails to make himself understood. “Hungry? No. Sleepy? No. Is it a nappy thing? No. Do you want Teddy? No. Well what is it then?”

She really empathises with the level of powerlessness he is feeling but often finds herself unable to assist him. When the frustration inevitably escalates to screaming, she is adept at distracting him with silly noises, face pulling and other unexpected behaviours which lead him to fall silent. We are all mostly unable to focus on being distressed and intrigued at the same time, regardless of our age.

Conversely, I have come across mothers for whom the reverse is true, who marvel daily at their ability to, “Just sort of know” what their offspring wants or needs at any given time, despite their inability to articulate it. Rest assured however that those babies are also experiencing feelings of frustration and powerlessness, whether at the lack of hasty response, being put somewhere they don’t want to be or being deprived of adoring attention for any longer than can be measured in seconds.

Of course, the temper also rises when a little one finds itself unable to complete a task they are attempting, that “I can’t DO IT!!” frustration. What you don’t want is to have that feeling of thwart leading to a repeated behaviour where giving up becomes a pattern. And it’s understandable - everyone likes a thing they can do better than a thing they can’t - it’s our job to try and find a way they can do it and to offer encouragement through the struggle.

The level of powerlessness experienced by the same babies and toddlers who also manage to dictate the lion’s share of our attention can be easy to forget - and it lasts for a really long time. Even when a child has reached the stage of being able to express him or herself perfectly well, it tends to be rather a long wait before we give them any real responsibility.

For some children, those who live with debilitating conditions or who may be predisposed to shyness or anxiety, for example, this powerlessness lingers more acutely.

In any of these circumstances, your patience, resilience, and empathy are your best friends. Hone your skills of observation. I use the phrase Whole Body Listening, which to me, seems like the most succinct way to express paying attention with every part of yourself. High quality observation is a powerful and vital tool, when dealing with children, and I'm not sure it's valued enough. To be able to take in and analyse information with all your senses, effectively and rapidly enough for it to influence your own behaviour minute by minute is a skill well worth developing.

To me, Whole Body Listening is being able to use eyes, ears, physical sensation, emotional intelligence, intuition and past learning, analytical thought processes, empathy and compassion... and probably a whole load of other stuff too. It's giving your full attention to others or to a.n. other with everything that you are and everything that you know. We don't do it that often. Our minds are distracted by what we are going to say or do next, by random thoughts unbidden and by our surroundings. When we really focus on another person, we learn so much about them.

Quite often if I'm observing a child from a distance, I will try to emulate their movements, or how they gesture, or hold themselves generally, to attempt to get a feeling for how they are in their skin and the internal workings that dictate that physicality. Their interactions with others are also extremely informative, including if and how they vary behaviour depending on who it is that they’re interacting with.

As well as observation skills, hone your persistence. Always give a response, if it works - great! If it doesn’t work, try something else, and keep trying. Remember that backing off can also be a positive move.