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Center for Early Relationship Support®

Infant-Parent Training Institute: Infant Observation
Frequently Asked Questions

How will the Infant Observation course be structured?

Participants in the course will visit a parent and infant in their home weekly for an hour over the 10 months of the class, September to June. Observations are written up following the visit in as much detail as can be remembered. Small groups of students meet weekly for two hours with a faculty member to read and discuss the recordings. The group explores what is shared to understand the fine details of development and relationships and to help make sense of the feelings stirred up by the observation.

What can I expect to learn from the Infant Observation experience?

Past participants in the course have felt the experience added significantly to their learning about infant and parent development, to their understanding of the relational context of all development, and to their levels of self-awareness. Observers learn to pay attention to multiple levels of behavior and affect, including their own internal reactions and feelings. The process of recording notes after the observation enhances the capacity for observation and recall of details and sequences. In writing and discussing the observations, participants gain new appreciation of the differences between description and interpretation. 

What is the “best” kind of family to observe and how will I find a family?

Infant Observation is meant to be an observation of a typically developing baby. You may observe a mother-baby dyad or father-baby dyad. The only expectation is that you observe the same family each week.

The families who participate in being observed are volunteers and are not looking for clinical intervention. Any family constellation or background is appropriate if the family is open to the experience.

We strongly recommend that you do not observe someone you know well. Many students have found their dyads by way of other people in the class. We recommend letting your friends, family, and colleagues know that you will be looking for a parent-baby dyad to observe beginning in the fall. If you find you need assistance in finding a parent-baby pair please let us know and we will refer you to our network of providers and groups.

What if I do not have a parent-baby dyad to observe by the first class?

It is not unusual to begin the course without a dyad to observe. Most students will begin their observations in September or October. During this time while students are looking for a dyad to observe, practice observations of parents–babies in natural settings, e.g. the playground, on the subway, or in a restaurant. These observations can be short, 5-10 minute observations.

How do I describe my role as an observer to the family?

You will be observing the parent-baby doing whatever they may be doing in their natural environment. As an observer you will not be doing assessments, offering assistance, or making recommendations. They do not need to do anything special for your visits.

There will be an Infant Observation Orientation and many of these questions will be reviewed and answered in more detail.

What if I notice a problem in the baby’s development?

In your role as observer, you may see things that concern you in the baby or family. The class offers a chance to share these concerns and sort out possible meanings and responses. One of the significant learnings in past groups has been about the range of normal development and the power of self-correcting developmental processes. In the letter we send to families who participate we do offer the opportunity for a free consultation if the family does have concerns.

Why is Infant Observation a requirement in the Infant Mental Health Fellowship?

The experience of infant observation sets the stage both for learning about development and for beginning clinical work with parents and infants. Building awareness of our own internal experiences and how to make use of them and developing our capacity to tolerate uncertainty and difficult emotions are critical foundations for therapeutic work. While the experience of being a parent or working in the field has many benefits for undertaking the training program, the Infant Observation experience is unique in the learning it offers. It may be taken prior to or concurrently with the fellowship program. The course also may be taken independently of the Fellowship.

"Understanding a relationship from the inside out allowed me to see complex patterns of how the baby's development and temperament influenced the relationship and the parents' development of their parenting role."
-Course Participant
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