Application: Observing Infant or Toddler Interactions
[A]ll development—and especially social-emotional development—emerges over time and through interactions with others. —Rebecca Parlakian and Nancy Seibel, Building Strong Foundations (p. 5)
Pediatrician and noted child psychiatrist Stanley Greenspan writes about six essential developmental stages (Parlakian & Seibel, 2002, p. 6). Each stage, also termed developmental goal, describes the growth of intelligence and social-emotional competency in the context of infants’ and toddlers’ relationships with important adults. The goal of this assignment is to give you the opportunity to observe interactions between an infant or toddler and a significant adult in order to better understand how adults can foster social-emotional development, including the vital process of development that Greenspan describes.
Plan your observation:
Arrange to observe an infant or toddler interacting in a natural environment (preferably in the child’s home or childcare setting) with an adult who is significant in his or her life.
Explain to the adult the purpose of the observation and how the information you gather will be used.
Set a time and date for the observation, explaining that you will need to be with them for about 45 minutes.
Review information from this week’s readings, including Table 1: Greenspan’s Six Essential Developmental Stages (found on page 6 of Building Strong Foundations: Practical Guidance for Promoting the Social-Emotional Development of Infants and Toddlers). Use the information to help you focus on interactions reflective of Greenspan’s six stages.
Arrive on time and take time to greet the child and the adult. Ask the adult about how the child’s day is going before you begin. (Factors such as a child feeling tired, hungry, or upset can influence the child’s mood and behavior.)
Observe: Sit in an unobtrusive place where you can watch and listen for about 20 minutes. You may need to move out of the infant’s or toddler’s visual range in order to avoid distracting the child and/or influencing his or her interactions with the adult. As you observe:
Use the Observation Guide to record notes on what you see and hear.
Note any ways that you observe the adult fostering social-emotional development and note any questions you have for the adult.
Keep your attention focused on the child and adult.
Remember to stay as objective as possible. You may observe a lot of activity from the child or very little.
Remember that despite similarities shared by children of various ages, each child is different and goes through the stages of social and emotional development in his or her own way. Keep this uniqueness in mind as you observe the child.
Enjoy the experience. Use what you’ve learned this week to try to imagine the world through the eyes of an infant or toddler.
Be respectful of the child’s and adult’s time. Stick to the time span you agreed to for the observation. Be sure to thank the adult and child for their cooperation.
Remember that this observation experience is intended as a chance for you to learn. Do not criticize or attempt to instruct the adult on ways to foster social and emotional development.
Reflect on your observation. Review your notes as many times as necessary. Then, describe the interactions you observed between the adults and children as follows:
What infant social-emotional behaviors did you see?
How did the adult respond to the child’s social-emotional behaviors?
What information do these interactions give you about the child’s developmental goal or goals?
Imagine yourself as the adult during the slice of time you observed. What suggestions would you find valuable for fostering the child’s social-emotional development?
Based on what you have learned, how do you hope to support the developmental goals of very young children during your interactions with them?
Note: Do not use the real names of the adult and child. Use only first names, initials, or fictitious names for the child and adult in order to protect their privacy. Remember that you are observing one moment in time, and that the interactions observed may not represent the scope of the interactions between the adult-child dyad.
Submit your reflection. (You are not required to submit your Observation Guide.)
Assignment length: 2–3 pages
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