Nurturing Presence in Babies and Children - The Aware Parenting Approach

Have you gazed into the eyes of a small baby lately?  Seen their presence and willingness to connect?  Ever wondered what happens to that when babies become children and adults?

Aware Parenting (www.awareparenting.com) shows us that a child’s true nature is to be present and aware, to want to connect, to cooperate, and contribute, and that this can be nourished so that it is not lost with age.

Presence is lost when babies and children experience stress or trauma.  As more stresses are experienced over time, tension accumulates in their bodies.  This can be observed in the form of less eye contact, increased muscle tension, more agitation, less smiling, and less ease in getting to sleep and staying asleep.  Hitting, biting, and not wanting to cooperate are all signs of accumulated stress.  We can also see behaviours that have been learnt to repress stress-related feelings, such as eating for comfort, hyperactive movement, sucking fingers or a dummy, and clinging on to an object or person.

Babies and children experience stress daily, even when we aim to parent consciously.  Stresses include stress in-utero, traumatic birth, over-stimulation, unmet needs, (such as for closeness), stressed and un-present parents, developmental frustrations, and frightening events (such as punishments, or violence on TV).  

Babies and children release stress by letting out the associated feelings and physical tension - by crying and raging with loving support.  For babies, support means being held in arms with awareness, whereas a toddler or older child chooses how close he needs to be.

When a baby or a child finishes expressing a chunk of feelings, he returns to a state of presence – eye gazing; wanting to be close; a relaxed body, and for older children, spontaneously wanting to cooperate and contribute. When a baby or child is regularly given the opportunity to let out stress in this way, he sleeps easily and calmly, and concentrates for long periods.

When viewed this way, parents no longer need to resort to strategies like punishments and rewards to solve parenting “problems”.  They understand that their child needs to regularly release stress, and they learn how to help – which varies with the child’s age and past experiences.  Parenting remains a pleasure, as parents and children stay lovingly connected with each other, and children retain their joyful, loving essence.

Published in InJoy Magazine Nov/Dec 2008