I want to talk a little about the ABM (Anat Baniel Method) and how I have recently noticed changes in our son.
I was recently listening to a podcast from Anat Baniel (the creator of the Anat Baniel method) who has been working with special needs children and adults for over 30 years, my focus shifted to something that she said. She was talking about how “not to praise” our kids when they do something for the first time.
This caught my attention as this is totally against what I have done in the past and I think what most of us do when our child does something new. We are so used to clapping, using verbal phrases of praise and just showing genuine excitement when our child does something that is new.
The premise of her talk (and I am paraphrasing) that if our brain is to form new connections we must allow it to happen naturally. If a child gets our praise and enthusiasm the first time they do something, they may not be able to do it again on demand. She used the example that a child does not learn to sit by sitting. It takes many steps and things in the brain to organize in order for this action to occur.
When a child does something for the first time, we need to give them space to do it, be quiet and just carry on as though nothing ever happened. The child will then take this experience once this connection has been formed and be able to do it again and again. We must not interfere with this process.
I recently had the opportunity to put this to the test.
We were at our cottage, specifically on our dock. We have a large boat lift that has a big circular wheel to pull the boat into place. There was an old tea towel that had been used as a rag to clean out another boat and it had been draped over the circular wheel of the boat lift to dry. Because it was windy, it had blown into the lake. My son had noticed it the day before and had commented on it.
The next day, he commented on it again as it had blown into the lake and was at the bottom of the lake which he could see. I told him he could go get it if he wanted to. It was in deeper water (not over his head). He had his bathing suit on and I could see that he was trying to figure out how he was going to get it. I stayed quiet and didn’t say anything. I just watched him.
He went up to the bunkie where we stored fishing stuff and he retrieved a fishing net. He then proceeded to get into the water, slowing moving toward the net but trying not to get his entire body wet in the process. He looked at the bottom of the lake. He looked up a few times, but his goal was to get it out of the lake. I watched in fascination as he was problem-solving.
I didn’t say a word, I just watched. He got closer to the towel and then he used the net to grab the towel from the bottom of the lake. He got it out and hung it back to dry where it had previously been drying before it blew in. I wanted to say “great job, you figured out how to do this,” or “way to go.” But I said nothing. He seemed to feel good at what he had accomplished.
Later that day, I noticed it had blown into the lake again. We will see what happens next!
The same day, another thing happened. Up at the cottage, we have a canoe that we store, flipped over so that if it rains, the water won’t go into the boat. Our son sometimes likes to sit on top of it. This day he was laying on top of the canoe kind of hugging it. The bottom end of the canoe was close to the lake. I watched as his body was slowing sliding down the canoe. I knew he was either going to slide off into the lake or somehow at least get his feet wet or fall in. In the past, I would have called his name and told him to be careful. This time, I remained silent. I thought to myself that he has to figure out what to do.
I kept watching him and sure enough, he lost his balance and his feet ended up in the lake and his shorts got wet. In the past, I would have told him to go and change his clothes. This time, I just sat there, quiet. He complained, “oh no, I’m wet.” He took off his shoes and put them on the dock and ran up to the cottage.
I waited for a bit to see if he would change and come back down or what he would do. He didn’t come for awhile, so eventually I went up to see what he was doing. He had put his wet shorts into the hamper and ways just laying on the bed. I thought to myself that this was great problem solving! Even though he did not do what I expected him to do, that was okay because he figured out what he wanted to do and he did it. The same situation may not always call for the same response. There are many different options or ways of choosing to handle situations and we have to let our children explore and figure out what is best for them in that moment.
I realize that I don’t need to create situations for change, that they will just present themselves if I just pay attention and let them happen naturally. Sometimes life is so fast that we don’t slow down to take time for these moments which will create new connections in our brain.
Since I am now more aware of this, I will be paying more attention each day to see what I “cannot do” to help my child.