The Power of Observation: A Parent/Caregiver’s Job

When I started having children, my dad would tell me repeatedly “You have to be forever vigilant.” I thought vigilant seemed like a strong word for someone like myself, who likes having fun with my kids, but as my children developed, I realized that vigilance was crucial. Fortunately, I am a natural observer, and it is no surprise I chose a career path which required observing behaviors, analyzing them, finding solutions to difficulties, and and celebrating growth and progress. The clients with whom I work and my own children provide me with an unending source to use and hone my skills of observation.

Observation may be part of our job in the workplace, but it is a crucial, undeniable part of our job as parents and caregivers. We are entrusted with the task of helping a child meet his full potential, and this can only be done with careful observation. One of the most important things we can do as parents or caregivers is to deepen our ability to observe childhood development in all its complexity. By being acute observers, we can find problems long before they become a serious issue as well as celebrate every amazing accomplishment.

Below are 10 observations I made about Sam’s age-appropriate development at 39 months of age. Some viewers may make other observations about him (e.g., he seems happy, he is clumsy and not careful enough, he rounds his lips beautifully when he says “toy” and “choo-choo,” etc.). Regardless of what is observed, the point is to take the time to observe carefully from a place of wanting to support a child’s development, of true caring, and of intensely desiring that a child meet his full potential.

1) Sam marks the word “choo-choo” with an “s” (choo-choos) to demonstrate he can express “more than one.”
2) He matches my question “What did you do?” with the verb, or “action” word, “drop.”
3) He uses the describer word “toy” to make his communication clear as to what kind of videos he wants to watch (e.g., toy trains, bullet trains, subway trains, etc.).
4) He expresses past tense appropriately by marking the verb “drop” with and “ed” ending (i.e., dropped) since what he did was “done.” He doesn’t mark past tense on “wrap,” but marking for past tense can be inconsistent at his age (39 months).
5) He accurately uses the contracted, or “short,” form of the verb “is” when he says “It’s.”
6) He uses his words to tell or report what he’s up to when he says “(I’m gonna) wrap this around.”
7) He uses eye contact to look at me appropriately during our interaction.
8) He uses location words such as “on” and “around.”
9) He shows concern for the damage that resulted from dropping the iPad. He uses his senses and processes the sensory information he gains from them to “survey” the damage (e.g., he looks at the floor, looks at and feels the missing part of the iPad cover, turns the iPad over carefully, etc.).
10) He uses the pronouns “I,” “it” and “my” appropriately.

A great resource for increasing one’s skills for observation as well as for learning the mindset of openness and wonder that helps parents and caregivers guide children through their development is a book titled The Power of Observation: Birth to Age 8 (Jablon, Dombro, & Dichtelmiller).

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