As parents/carers I am sure nearly all of us are aware of the guilt induced as we balance our exhaustion, perpetual tasks and life busy-ness with the greater amount of attention we feel we would ideally or should be giving our children. Every time our child makes a bid for our attention and we consider if we have enough resource within us to fully engage, it can sometimes be pure guilt that is the decider! We are often purely reactive and our child’s bid might have a hit and miss success.
Our children always want our attention. Much of their behaviour – both helpful and unhelpful – can be about trying to get our attention. It’s no surprise. We are the most interesting thing in their lives. We’re interactive, we’re the majority of what they know and they relish our focus. We are also their prime source of care and love. No wonder they want us! But we can’t, understandably, give them attention incessantly; we have so many other things that need doing!
So what’s the answer? I think this lies in a simple approach – one you might already do of course – but you could probably always do a bit more of: make regular, deliberate bids for your child’s attention. If our child is the one mostly or always having to make the bids, they will never be satisfied. They will feel that they are always the one asking. That kind of imbalance in adult relationships can make us unhappy so you can imagine the impact on children. Each time they make a bid they are also putting themselves into the position of being vulnerable to the impact of your response. They might feel acceptance of you respond positively, or if you’re too busy, feel rejected. If they always have to do the asking, they can be left feeling like you don’t really want to spend time with them, you don’t enjoy them and in the worst-case scenarios you don’t like them. You can’t rely on children to be rational about this. The health of your relationship and their feelings towards it, is their world.
Making bids for your child’s attention need not be huge either. It could be asking them to come for a walk with you, settling to a book together or asking them to help you cook a meal. The key thing is you seek them out and you demonstrate your wish to be with them. It doesn’t have to be really frequent either. As long as you are doing the asking, your child will feel valued.
I’ll also add that if your child does engage in tricky behaviours, these are very likely to settle, as much behaviour is about trying to get your time and focus. Some children work out that negative behaviours get attention really quickly. This demonstrates how much a child craves attention and is prepared to do anything to get it – even preferring negative attention over none at all. You shift your behaviour slightly by making more bids for your child’s attention and your child’s emotions and behaviour will nearly always respond beneficially as you are so key in your child’s life. For the child this is all subconscious of course.
This ‘tool’ makes me think of the saying, ‘a stitch in time, save nine’. A little intentional and proactive attention towards your child can save a lot of mopping up of negative behaviours in the long run!
An afternote: I am going to add that this is in no way a judgement or an assumption and I can imagine some people will consider what I have written in this post extremely obvious. There are, of course, parents/carers who give their children loads of deliberate attention. Those who can’t are usually strung out by the oppressive pressures of modern living as a typical ‘nowadays’ life barely gives people time to breathe!