Best Laid Plans
This time it was Sarah and I alone who made the trip. I had organized the workshop according to my last bog posting on January 1. Sarah had some excellent suggestions that we incorporated over an early breakfast in the hotel. I had looked over the evaluations of the participants from the last workshop yesterday afternoon, and had noticed that many people expressed appreciation for videos, which I had not included in the plan for this workshop. I was not sure which videos I had on this computer. At breakfast I suggested to Sarah that we start the day with an emphasis on what good the orphanage has done for their children and a reminder of the importance of the caregiving relationship, especially in the early years. Sarah agreed. She looked through her computer and found some excellent videos that she had taken of theses caregivers, demonstrating the attentiveness and affection that characterizes a good caregiving relationship; we made a new plan. I had located an image of Leonardo’s Virgin and Child with Ste. Anne, thinking that we could use it as an introduction to get across our point about the importance of supporting the caregiver – the mother (Mary) is holding the baby (Jesus) while she herself is in the lap of her own mother (Ste. Anne). Then I found a wonderful video made by my friend, Ed Tronick, demonstrating through the still face experiment the importance to the infant of the emotional connection with the caregiver. We decided that we would first show the Leonardo image and then show several positive videos of the caregivers who we knew would be present at the workshop. However, our experience this morning confirmed our suspicions that no matter how well we plan, we always revise our workshop during the course of the event. Here is what happened.
How the Workshop Proceeded
We started with the Leonardo image. Then we showed the still face video. The participants were delighted by the initial infant-mother interaction in Ed’s tape – for example, the mother brightening and turning her head to look in the direction the infant was pointing – and impressed by the infant’s distress when the mother made the still face.
Then we showed a video of M, one of the caregivers present, holding K, a baby with severe cerebral palsy, who was carefully wrapped in a blanket in her lap. V, a 3-year old girl, was telling her a story, and M was listening to V’s story. At one point, V pointed out into the distance, and M’s gaze followed her robust little pointing finger, much the way the attuned mother in Ed’s video followed the pointing finger of her infant. While doing this, the blanket covering K came undone, and M tenderly adjusted his thin little legs and covered them again with the blanket without withdrawing her attention from V.
Then we showed a clip of C interacting with another caregiver, L. C at this point was about 7-years old. I mentioned my introduction to C at my first visit to the orphanage, when he was an infant and seemed to always be in the arms of M. At that time, he was so obviously delayed in his development, that I felt very pessimistic about his future. Here, C is working at a project of gluing beans on a piece of paper in the shape of an alphabet letter. The project was actually the school assignment of another child, but C had wanted to join in. L was patiently working with C, taking turns with him at gluing the beans on the paper. When the project was finished, C hustled to paste it on the wall for all to see. Then, he called L and skipped into the exhibition room to show her his picture displayed on the wall.
After the clip, Sarah asked the participants to describe the emotions they imagined C having in this clip. One CG (caregiver) said, “satisfaction”; another said, “happiness”, another said that he must have felt “intelligent”. A CG said, “safety, protected by somebody”. Another said, “perseverance”. A final response was, “joy, happiness”. Clearly, the caregivers understood that L’s patient, attentive attitude towards this intellectually slow little boy had resulted in an experience of mastery that enhanced his self-esteem.
I brought up the idea of those little moments that in our last workshop we referred to as “momentos magicos”, shared moments of a positive recognition of the child and of the value of their relationship. One momento magico by itself cannot do much, but the accumulation of many, many such moments in a relationship can make a powerful contribution to a child’s healthy development.
In the next video, CG Y, is doing homework with three boys. Two boys are seated at the table, working on their homework, and I, an 8-year old boy, is lounging on top of the table, not doing homework, and making one provocative gesture after another. Each time he does something provocative, Y seems to barely notice. Suddenly, I picks up a pencil and begins to work. When the video is examined to try to determine what allowed I to begin work, you see Y take a pencil and give him a gentle tap on the forehead. It is exactly at this point that I moves towards his homework. What was it in that gentle tap that facilitated this change in I?
Sarah asked the participants what they thought Y did to help I get down to work. I pointed out that we saw only the end of the video and could not see the multiple times I had acted provocatively and that Y had reacted calmly. One CG said, “be patient with kids and have the patience to explain things to them so that they learn that there are other people in the world.” Sarah responded, “The ability to be patient with children helps them to think about other people”. Another CG said, “Many of our kids come from dysfunctional homes, and when they react with violence, by reacting differently, you can take the opportunity to teach them that there are other ways to act.” R, the administrator of the childcare in the orphanage, said, “It is the importance of the relationship that has already formed. If it had been someone else, it probably would not have worked out that way.” Sarah and I were delighted with these responses, especially R’s comment about the power of the relationship that is built over time. I made another remark about those “momentos magicos” that accumulate. Every time you don’t over-react to a child’s provocation, you are building trust and goodwill in the relationship.
Finally, we watched a video of L, a male CG, and J, a 7-yo boy. It was J’s chore to dry the pots, and he was reading a book and procrastinating. L stooped to look at the book with J and then persevered in urging him to come and do his work. At the sink, L gave him a small task, just one pot lid, at first; J dried it. Then J put a big pot on his head. Instead of being provoked, L seemed to not notice, even turned his body slightly away. J took the pot off his head. L helped J dry the pots. When they were dry, the two guys walked past the big girls, who were frosting cup cakes they had just made. J begged for one, but the girls refused, and instead gave one to L. L divided the cupcake and gave half to J. Later, one of the girls gave a cupcake to J, and he divided it and gave half to L. Then the two guys walked off, arm in arm.
Sarah asked the group what they saw in the video. One CG said, “L first got into J’s world, and it wasn’t just from a distance. He got close and down to eye level and they were able to get it into a positive experience; he modeled it (cooperation) for him.” We talked about those momentos magicos again, how each time L avoided a struggle with J he helped J build the capacity to be flexible and “get with the program”. Sarah said that those momentos magicos were “money in the bank”. She pointed out that L followed up on the completion of the task by giving J positive experiences with him (the cupcakes). The caregivers commented that by allowing J to keep some control, by following his lead – looking at the book at the beginning and by allowing the experience with the cupcakes – and by persevering and showing patience, the experience made J feel encouraged and powerful in an appropriate way. J could identify with L, two guys with a common goal – get the job done and get a reward.
It was clear that the caregivers in the group had taken in an understanding of the importance of an attuned and caring relationship to the child’s development and self of self. It was also clear that they had spent years building this kind of relationship with these children, and that now many of these relationships were being taken apart. It was here that I decided we needed to change plans in a major way.
I will describe the new course of events in my next posting.