“Mommy, Pay Attention!”
“Mommy, Pay Attention!”
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When children repeat behaviors that annoy adults, it’s often their way of saying, “I need you to pay attention to me!” Although sometimes frustrating for parents, wanting your attention is not the mark of a selfish or “spoiled” child! Attention is like oxygen for children; they must have it in order to grow up emotionally healthy. It is up to parents to deliver attention in optimal doses at the right times. Here’s how:
- Find times during the day when you can be fully present to read a book, play a game, or look at your child’s latest drawing. Focus your full attention on him – not on the pot on the stove, not on the computer, not on his siblings. Your undivided attention feels like warm sunshine to your child.
- Starting in infancy, show your child through your listening habits that you genuinely want to” be there.” Listen both with your intellect and with your heart. In other words, pay attention to what your child is saying as well as how she is feeling.
- The greater share of communication has its source in body language and facial expression, not in words. Let your child know that you really understand what she is communicating by reflecting back her real message.
Dad: “What would you like for snack today?”
Child: (shrugs shoulders and frowns)
Dad: (makes gentle eye contact) “You seem kind of down in the dumps. What’s going on, Kiddo?”
Here, dad is responding with empathy to the real message his child is communicating rather than expressing frustration over her failure to answer his question about snack.
©2008 Beech Acres Parenting Center; www.beechacres.org
- Likewise, keep in mind that your own nonverbal communication carries the greater part of your message. Convey your interest by making eye contact, sitting down with your child, and avoiding interruptions.
- Focused attention does not have to occur in large blocks in order to make your child feel valued. Powerful, positive communication often occurs in a few moments.
- Recurrent annoying behavior that interrupts you can be a signal to teach your child about courtesy. Show her how to ask for your attention and what to do while she is waiting.
- Respectfully explain to your child that when you are on the phone, talking to a friend, or having a few minutes to yourself that you need for her to occupy herself until you are free. Not only is this time important for you, it is equally important to model for your children how to take care of their own needs for uninterrupted time. Keep in mind that limiting interruptions is only realistic and fair if you are offering adequate opportunities for your child to approach you and have your full attention.
- Explain to your child that when you are able to finish the things that you need and want to do, you have the energy to do fun things with her. Likewise, when you are interrupted, that takes away your energy. Interrupting Mommy now means not hearing a story later, it tires Mommy out and keeps her from finishing her work. Follow through.
- Sometimes children’s irritating behavior signals that they are upset. Help your child say what he is feeling instead of acting it out.
- Remember: seeking attention occurs because children need attention. Parents truly are the most important people in the world of young children. Allow yourself to soak up the compliment of their desire for your attention.