Driven to Distraction
I was driven to distraction by my almost one-year-old grandson last year: I distracted him from the Christmas tree, the fireplace, my eyeglasses, the dog’s water dish, and so on. To distract him, I moved him to another part of the room, introduced other activities, and substituted interesting toys for the things I didn’t want him handling. My grandson and I both benefited from my use of distraction. I didn’t need to yell or say no to preserve my property (and sanity) and he was able to continue exploring and learning by focusing on objects that were safe for him.
Distraction is a valuable parenting tool—for all ages. With infants or toddlers, it is usually easy to direct their attention to something else by physically moving them to another location or substituting another object. With an older child or a teen, using distraction requires more thought and attention. This is a good sign, as it indicates the growing ability of the child to maintain focus on one thing. Distraction works best when parents involve the child in the process. By actively participating he or she will learn how to use deliberate distraction independently.
Deliberate distraction consists of helping a child to replace one behavior with another—playing with a toy instead of a dangerous object, for example. It can also help a child learn how to delay gratification by focusing on other activities while waiting for a desired activity, event, or object.
Partial distraction—having something else to focus on in addition what you are doing—is useful for:
*Making a boring or unpleasant task easier to do—setting a timer so getting dressed is a race against time;
*Staying on task to the finish —by using background music, taking frequent short breaks before returning to work;
*Getting through a difficult emotional experience—using physical activities such as going for a run and/or creative activities like drawing a picture or writing a letter.
Deliberate distraction is not about ignoring unpleasant feelings or situations. Instead, it can be a way to work through or cope with those feelings; or it can help calm emotions so that one can begin to problem-solve.
Before using distraction it’s helpful to identify and acknowledge what the child is currently focusing on and what the child may be feeling. You might describe the situation from the child’s point of view: “When Dad has to go to work you feel sad.” “You are having a lot of fun getting wet.” Ask your child what he or she is paying attention to. Or stay silent and wait beside your child for a while. Allowing time to acknowledge the situation shows respect and will help your child become aware that he or she is focusing on something—that awareness makes it easier to shift focus to something else.
Being able to redirect attention from one thing to another isn’t just a parenting tool. It is also a valuable lifelong ability. As adults we all encounter boring tasks, long waits, and challenging emotions. Deliberate, positive distraction can help us as well as our children.
Published on ParentingSuccessNetwork 2.13.13