By Karen Whiting, Crosswalk.com
Moms want to bring out the best in each child to help them thrive. Promoting positive character, behavior, and social interactions starts with observing a child. The benefits of assessing strengths and weaknesses remind moms of the importance of being an attentive parent. When you are perceptive, you will be more able to discover your child’s:
• Behavior reactions and changes
• Social interaction strengths and weaknesses
• Strategies in play and learning
• Skills and natural talents
• Learning style
Those are powerful reasons to become more observant. The words of Proverbs 2:2, “Make your ear attentive to wisdom; Incline your heart to understanding,” reminds moms to first be mindful.
1. Avoid Distractions
Focus on your child. When your child wants to talk or show you something, pause or let your child know to give you a few minutes to complete a task, and then you give your undivided attention.
This also means putting away your cell phone, tablet, or camera. When your child looks at you, they want you to return the glance. It’s not unusual, but sad, to see a child at a park hold their mom’s cheeks, lean into her face and say, “Mommy watch me, not your phone.”
Distractions can cause children to react negatively. One boy refused to eat, and his mom asked a friend how she got her child to eat. The other mom replied, “She cooks with me, so she wants to try what she helps make.”
The first mom replied, “I always make my son watch a show or play in his room so I can cook without being distracted. Maybe he thinks I like cooking more than him. A few days later, that mom told her friend, “My son loves to mash potatoes, and then he eats everything! It’s messier, but we laugh at the mess, and then he helps me clean it up.”
2. Watch Without Interacting
Simply watching provides the opportunity to see how your child interacts with objects and people, makes choices, and reacts to what’s happening around them. These are clues to interests, preferences, and social skills. Sit nearby as your children play or work to quietly observe both when each child is alone and with other children.
Notice choices made, how your child interacts, what causes frustration, anger, smiles, and laughter. Notice all their emotions and when they persist or change activities. Note what causes reactions or negative behavior.
Jimmy kept sneaking around and turning lights off on his big brother Shane and then he’d run away. Shane would scream. Their mom watched and noticed it happened whenever Shane grabbed something away from Jimmy. Her quiet younger boy reacted with passive aggression. She called them together and pointed out how they upset each other. She asked for their ideas. Shane agreed to ask and not grab and let Jimmy continue playing with a toy if he said he was not finished. Jimmy agreed to talk more and tell Shane what he wanted. Peace reigned again.
3. Listen with Your Ears, Eyes, and Heart
Listening begins with hearing a baby’s cries and understanding what variations in sounds, intensity, and tone mean. A loud cry of pain is different from one that expresses tiredness or hunger. Understanding the differences makes it easier to meet your child’s needs.
As a child grows, facial expressions, body movements, and words replace the cries. Notice the signs of varied emotions and reactions that help you understand the underlying needs. A child’s cute phrases reveal thoughts and how they make sense of life. The cuteness may change to sarcasm or negative expressions as they age, but even those provide clues.
Mandy went from a neat child to a messy teen. When her mother suggested things would look better if she organized her room, Mandy responded, “It’ll still be ugly.” Her Mom looked around the room and noticed the childhood paint colors and curtains. She said, “Maybe a room do-over would help. Let’s shop for new curtains, a bedspread, paint, and items you’d like better.
Mandy said, “Yes, let’s go now.” The shopping included a new bed, painting, and adding shelves. After the transformation, Mandy took care of her room again.
4. Record Observations
Busyness makes it hard to remember all a child does or says in a day, so write your observations. Include words, behavior, accomplishments, struggles, and reactions of your son or daughter. Describe what character traits stand out and what problems show.
One child startled his mom when he tugged on her clothes and said, “I’m scared when you yell like you just did.” She had been yelling, “Be quiet and stop yelling.” That evening she wrote about her son’s words and realized his siblings modeled her behavior and ignored her words. She resolved to use a softer voice and stop the yelling.
Another mother read her notes and realized her children had very different personalities, with one being talkative and outgoing while the other was quiet and took a long time to join in games. She realized she needed to treat them according to their temperaments.
See what patterns emerge in behaviors, interests, and character traits when you review past observations. What ones do you want to encourage, and what ones need a little curbing? Consider how to approach both the positives and the negatives to bring out the best in your youngster.
5. Understand Your Child’s Bent
Observe your child’s personality, learning style, and passions. Each helps you know what motivates or discourages them.
• Promises of social interaction, playtimes, and family fun motivates the social child. That can be as simple as a phone photo session.
• What motivates the goal-oriented child, who tends to be bossy, is praise for achievements and control over some areas and choices. My oldest wanted control at age two, so I asked her to be in charge of the diaper bag. She loved it, and I always knew the bag would be filled with all I needed. She’d tell me what to add to the shopping list to refill it.
• The child who is slower to do things and likes to relax but is also friendly and diplomatic needs incentives as motivators. That can be promises of time to share stories and jokes or a special snack.
• The quiet child who seems curious and takes longer to answer questions is more analytical and is motivated by detailed plans, routines, and time to be alone, as well as regular alone time with you. That’s also the child who smiles or sighs with relief when given a timeout as a punishment.
6. Discover Your Child’s Learning Style
Recognize your children’s different learning styles and whether each one learns best by listening, seeing, touching and moving, social interaction, or experimenting and thinking things through (analytical). The more you can discover the difference in each child, the more you can help each one thrive. Once you know what helps a child learn, provide resources and opportunities that fit their style.
For the visual learner, invest in books, maps, charts, and games that take watchful eyes, like finding hidden objects in a picture. For the auditory learner, buy recorded books, music, and instruments, take walks to listen to sounds, and play games that include sound. For the kinesthetic learner, supply them with learning manipulatives, classes involving movement, building games, and other hands-on activities. For the global (social) learner, engage your child in group learning experiences and projects, biographies, and trips to history museums. For the analytical learner, provide science kits, cooking lessons, maps, encyclopedias, and other reference books, and acquaint them with the library’s system.
7. Seek Support from Other Moms
Listen and ask other moms to share stories of how observing their child helped them. Did they have moments they realized a need or figured out what best motivated their children? Did they have a revelation at some point?
Listen to what their children do and ask questions to discover why they made certain choices or reacted in specific ways. That can help you understand your own children. If you are puzzled about your child’s behavior, ask if anyone had a child who showed similar behavior or if anyone has an idea of how to respond to the conduct. You’ll often find you are not alone.
When I took my young son shopping for play shoes, he kept picking up black dress shoes. He did not speak a lot, and I tried to put the black shoes back, but that’s all he wanted. I prayed for insight, and in my mind, I saw my husband putting on his black military shoes. I said, “You want shoes like daddy wears, don’t you?” He grinned and nodded. I added, “You don’t want to get sand and dirt in these shoes, so you also need some sneakers.” He happily complied. My story helped other military moms with a similar problem.
8. Discern and Analyze
Use observations to understand and make plans to congratulate your child on the positives and encourage your child to make choices to improve as needed. However, keep a balance and choose only one positive and one negative for each child at a time. More can overwhelm anyone. Praise builds them up, but too much can produce an inflated ego. Encouragement to improve can help a child persist unless there’s too much criticism.
My younger daughter, at age five, liked to draw and color but avoided learning the alphabet. I bought a maze book where each puzzle was in the shape of a letter. Then as I praised her for her choice of color and ability to stay in the lines, I also showed her how she formed the different letters. She enjoyed learning letters that way.
Enlist your child in analyzing solutions. At any age, help your child reflect on choices and the consequences or outcomes. Ask your child to share their view of what happened and how they will approach a similar situation in the future.
Challenge yourself to learn one new thing about your child and carry on one good conversation daily or weekly.
9. Engage Thoughtfully
Once you have plans or ideas, be ready to engage with your child. The connections will vary depending on a child’s age. For little ones, cuddling up, expressing joy over a good day, and encouraging a child to try something new is relatively easy.
As a child grows and strives for independence, they don’t want advice as much, but they still long for affirmation. Step back and realize they are trying to work their way to adulthood. Even when they make poor choices, they want you to have faith in them and realize they also learn from failures. It takes negotiating and finding compromises as they stretch boundaries and explore options. In understanding your child’s personality and when they are more open to advice, use moments wisely to show you accept and love your child but also share your convictions and beliefs.
At any age, children love stories. Recounting escapades, your own childhood struggles, and anecdotes of family members show consequences. Children also like to talk about their passions if you show interest and enthusiasm. When you see a passion developing, read about it online, so you can ask intelligent questions that show your interest. That often prompts conversations.
Enjoy the Results
Review the benefits listed. Notice what ones you are reaping, and be thankful your observations are helping your child and your relationship. Building lasting bonds comes with investing time to know your child better and reinforcing the unique traits that make them special.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/FamVeld
Karen Whiting is a mom, author, international speaker, writing coach, and former television host who loves sharing ideas to strengthen families. She has written Growing a Mother’s Heart: Devotions of Faith, Hope, and Love from Mothers Past, Present, and Future. Check out her new book 52 Weekly Devotions for Family Prayer that includes a different way to pray each week plus stories and activities to explore questions children ask about prayer She loves adventure including camel riding, scuba diving, treetop courses, and white water rafting plus time at home crafting and baking.