(Beginning in mid-March 2020, when the world shut down, I began a bi-weekly conversation with the parents who had been in my RIE classes. Since not every family could make it to these conversations, but each conversation touched on important elements, I would often write up a summary of the conversation. What follows is one of those summaries.)
The greatest gift you can give another is the purity of your attention.
~ Richard Moss
True story: I have no idea who Richard Moss is (though I did double check to be sure it wasn’t the guy from The IT Crowd), but I adore this quotation. It sums up what is so special about the Educaring Approach. From changing a diaper, to watching for sleepy signs in your child, to observing them at play, to being present to their deepest and darkest emotions…that’s what RIE parents are called to do: give children the purity of your attention.
It’s what Dan Siegel calls “feeling felt” and we all know how it feels to have someone see us…really see US…for who we are. For someone to simply be present or to listen without waiting to talk, observe with no objective or angle. It’s what Magda says about playing roles…it’s not easy or comfortable and we wouldn’t want anyone we’re in a relationship to put on pretenses.
It’s far too easy to offer partial or split attention…screens are everywhere, the news is nonstop, and the lists in our heads are never-ending. I, for one, have noticed that my own attention lately has felt scattered and shallow. I sit down at the computer to do one thing and later realize I never accomplished that thing, though I did several other important things. I recently saw a thread of comments online that helped me understand some of my flightiness, even if I’m not super thrilled about it (attaching to this email, if you’re curious and/or feeling the same).
No, it takes intentionality and presence to give someone your full and undivided attention. Let me give you a little more urgency: when our attention is split and our brain is trying to do multiple things at once, there is a dwindling reserve left for the person we are interacting with…which leaves us operating on automatic. When on automatic, our brains turn all of our various operations into tasks…items…objects. The person you are interacting with becomes an object…an ‘it’ rather than a person.
We’ve all been on the receiving end of that, especially lately…I’ve even done it: We’re on a zoom chat, we’re connecting, we’re talking…then I want to share my screen, but I have a little trouble pulling it up…I try to keep…talking….you know…uh…to keep the, uh…the conversation going…hang on…because it would be…uh…uhhhhh…impolite if I just ignored you. Right?
Yeah no…it would be better if I just said “Hang on…let me pull up the picture. I’m going to turn my camera off for a moment while I find it. I’ll be right back.” Instead, that half-attended conversation turns our “I-You” interaction into a “I-It” interaction. I’m not in tune with you, I’m trying to be, but some of my attention is pulled away…when this happens, I’m missing cues and clues from you. And it probably doesn’t feel very good. If the whole conversation went like that, it might end up feeling a bit like a rejection, and did you know that we feel rejection in the same part of our brains that we feel physical pain (our anterior cingulate cortex, if you’re curious) (Goleman, 2006, p 113).
Of course, we can’t give someone else that precious gift of attention 100% of the time. But we can do it in short bursts…Magda recommended caregiving times because, as she said, that’s the natural time to be wholeheartedly with your child: you have to be close during caregiving! We also know that caregiving fosters attachment, so give it the extra special sauce of attention and deepen that connection. Of course, you can also offer complete attention when watching your child play and explore, being that touchstone of connection and support as needed.
And the best part is, when you are able to do this, it’s a gift that keeps giving…you get the gift of presence, too.
Hoping you are all finding some time to set aside your screens, your worries, your lists…and just be present with your children, for a little while, each day. Enjoy the gifts that offers you. I’d love to hear how it goes.
Your children have important lessons to learn,
but even more important ones to teach.
What can they teach?
How to pay complete attention.
How to play all day without tiring.
How to let one thing go,
and move on to another
with no backward glances.
How to move and sit
with no tension in the muscles,
no stress in the bones.
Thus the wise parent learns,
younger every day.
How happy would your life become
if every time you taught your children
a new idea or skill from your world,
you stopped and watched until
they taught you one from theirs?
What will you learn from them today?