Education Review talks to Augustina Driessen about the baby-watching programme that is successfully being used in schools and early childhood centres to combat aggressive behaviour at a young age.
A class of five- and six-year-old children at Katikati Primary, in the Bay of Plenty, sits in a circle watching a mother and her baby interact. The children, in their gold and green uniforms, from an array of ethnic and social backgrounds, are entranced with the baby. With prompting from their teacher, they talk about what the baby is doing and why. "The baby is happy, because her eyes are wide open and she is trying to smile," says one little boy, opening his eyes wide in imitation. "She is moving her arms like that to practise hugging her mum," says another girl.
The Katikati Primary children are participating in the BASE (Baby-watching against Aggression for Sensitivity and for Empathy) programme, introduced to the Bay of Plenty region by Augustina Driessen, a registered child psychotherapist.
Driessen says BASE is designed so that the children learn about the parent-infant relationship and what it means. She says the programme is focused on learning about relationships, and not on developmental or educational aspects of a child's learning.
"The children are learning that other people have different feelings from their own; they are learning to understand that the baby and the mother have different feelings from the children."
Driessen established FABS (Family Attachment BASE, SAFE), a charitable trust that administers the BASE programme, and the SAFE (Secure Attachment Family Education) programme in August 2007.
Both programmes were founded by Dr Karl Heinz Brisch of Munich, Germany, a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist, neurologist, psychoanalyst, and psychotherapist. After being inspired by one of Brisch's books, Driessen travelled to Munich to study with Brisch.
She came across the book in 2002 when attending a world conference on child mental health. "It stood out," Driessen says of Brisch's writing. "It made me want to know more, to study with him, to learn from him, so I contacted him to ask if I could travel to Munich to see him. 'Come,' he said. So I did."
Brisch, a world-renowned expert on attachment (the emotional bond between parents and their children), challenged Driessen to introduce the BASE and SAFE programmes to New Zealand.
Brisch developed the programmes in response to the work of United States psychiatrist, Henry Parens, a holocaust survivor who later worked with people who manifested extreme aggression. Brisch formulated the BASE programme in response to the frequent displays of aggressive behaviour in today's society.
Driessen's introduction to the BASE programme began when Brisch invited her to accompany him to a kindergarten in Munich, where his BASE programme was running.
"I saw the children being put in a circle with two teachers present. Then the mother and her baby arrived and settled themselves in the middle of the circle, with the mother interacting with her baby. Her focus was solely on her baby. One teacher was leading the group of children, whilst the other was observing and making notes. I learned that the programme was developed to teach the children empathy and sensitivity by asking questions about doing, thinking, and feeling."
Questions like 'what is the mummy doing now?', 'what do you think the baby might be feeling now?' and 'what might mummy be thinking?' are instrumental to the BASE programme, prompting the children to consider the actions and feelings of the mother and baby in the centre. In the beginning, the teachers tend to answer for the children to help them learn the appropriate language; teaching them concepts of 'safe', 'secure', 'proud', 'happy', and 'startled'. Gradually the children learn to respond, using specific language for the occasion.
The BASE programme runs every week during school time for 20 to 30 minutes for a whole year. Sometimes sessions are longer, if the baby and mother are content to remain within the circle.
"The teachers are trained by some of my professional team and myself to facilitate the programme," says Driessen. "The teachers and us, the trainers, are noticing that already after three months, there are positive changes in the children's behaviour. The children's language expands. Also, the children are becoming far more caring toward one another. It diminishes bullying. The ultimate for us is that the children can place themselves into the 'shoes' of both the mother and the baby. In other words, they can 'walk a mile in another's shoes'."
Katikati Primary teacher and deputy principal, Anne Morriss, agrees. "I've noticed big changes in the children's ability to actually vocalise and describe what is happening," she says.
"We know that the internal world of the child changes from being confused and not having empathy. The empathy they develop on this programme becomes part of their internal world and once instilled, becomes part of them forever. It is not only about the here and now, but is a life-long journey, and when they become adults and parents themselves, they will remember how the interaction with their children must be, no matter what their background."
Morriss gives the example of one little girl from a foster home, who is benefitting hugely from the BASE programme. The girl's foster mother says since BASE, she has started looking after a doll like a baby and takes a huge interest in other babies she comes across, transferring what she has taken from the BASE programme into a life situation.
Driessen hopes the programme will expand. "At the moment, we are targeting children between the ages of three to six, but hope in the future to be able to provide the programme for older children. Just now BASE is running in several schools and early childhood centres in the Bay of Plenty. However, it is poised to begin running in other areas of the country," she says.
FABS also administers SAFE, a clinic-based programme for parents, who take part in SAFE from when they are between 20 and 28 weeks pregnant until the baby is one year old. This differs from other parenting programmes in that it enhances attachment between parents and their infants. Once the parents are able to make a secure attachment with their baby, this enables the baby to reciprocate the emotional bond.
"To achieve this, it takes between eight months and a year before the baby is securely attached to their primary caregiver, usually their parents," she says.
"A securely attached baby becomes a confident child, which is quite evident at school. These children are able to step out of their comfort zone - within reason, of course - because of their secure relationship with their parents.
"SAFE has also been designed for foster and adoptive parents to help them deal with children who come with 'baggage'," says Driessen. --------------------------------------- For more information about FABS, visit http://www.fabs.org.nz/ ********************************************** -- Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University 625 Wham Drive Mail Code 4610 Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O] (618) 457-8903 [H] Fax: (618) 453-4244 E-mail: email@example.com