Thursday, April 2, 2009

Reading Cues

Animal trainers, especially those who work with big cats, must learn to read cues from the animals very carefully. Their lives may depend on it. When a large cat stares at a trainer or crouches down a few inches, he may be preparing to pounce on the trainer. Knowing the power and strength of a big cat, the trainer has to respond to these cues before the pounce occurs. To address the issue after the fact will probably be futile.

Humans also watch cues from other people. Poker players call these cues "tells" and use them to guess if other players have good hands or are bluffing.

Animal trainers study their animals carefully, watch for cues, and then respond to the cues immediately. In order for me to do this with my children or husband, I need to study them well and watch them carefully. I wonder if I do this enough or if I am too focused on my own agenda.

With my one year old, I have to wacth her carefully to protect her. Dangers abound for her - when she crawls to the edge of the bed, when there are coins on the floor and she crawls towards it, etc.. Any mother watches a baby closely and intervenes seconds before danger occurs. But do I do this with my older toddler? Of course I do when safety is at issue, as a natural instinct. For example, my three year old must hold my hand or be carried in parking lots. She must take my hand before we step onto the parking lot, not in the middle of the parking lot. She has learned to put two hands on the car and stand next to me while I am getting her younger sister in and out of the car. I need two hands to get my one year old in and out of the car and cannot risk my three year old wandering around the parking lot.

Because my three year old is sick, we watch her carefully. A few small bruises may indicate her platelet levels are dropping and she could need a transfusion. Nausea may indicate a urinary tract infection which requires antibiotics. This hyper vigilance is quickly developed by all parents of children with cancer. Our fear for our children's health motivates us to study our children's bodies closely.

I wonder if I watch my husband's cues and respond to them. Certainly I know the basics - when he gets a towel out of the linen closet, he is about to take a shower. When he makes a bottle of milk for our one year old in the morning, he is about to go wake her up. But these "cues" are not subtle. They are obvious. Reading them is not hard - they are basically preparatory steps. And there is no need for me to respond or intervene.

What types of cues do I need to read to attempt to intervene and avoid certain behaviors? My husband does not have much of a temper. He doesn't have crying fits like my three year old does. I don't have to watch him carefully to avoid dangers like I do with my one year old.

This post was inspired by the book "What Shamu Taught me about Life, Love and Marriage" by Amy Sutherland.

No comments: