Look at Me!
Children need attention as much as they need food–perhaps more so. At least there are times when it seems that way. As one mother put it, “My child is a bottomless well. I never seem able to fill him up with enough attention.”
What is attention? Awareness, recognition, courtesy, consideration, concentration on one thing, affection, detailed care–the definitions of attention can help us to find effective ways to give it to our children—and to ourselves.
Attend to your own needs. If your child seems to be extra needy, don’t forget to look to your own needs. Children sense when their parents are distressed or preoccupied. When we are stressed we may be less attentive than usual, but our children may also crave more attention than usual. Some activities can help meet your needs while meeting those of your child.
Gary Chapman, counselor and author, theorizes that children (and adults) have different “love languages.” What makes one person feel loved and attended to may leave another person wanting something else. Chapman’s “languages” are physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, and acts of service.
Physical touch: Mothers often feel “touched out.” My own experience as a mother with little ones was that receiving loving touch helped me to relax and recharge even when the idea of giving touch made me cringe.
* Carrying your baby or toddler in a cloth sling or wrap is a time-honored way to connect while meeting your own needs.
* Poor parent’s massage: you lie on your stomach and let kids crawl on you/pound on your back/drive toy cars over you…
* Teach your child the “weather report” back rub (using your fingers to mimic rain, thunder, wind . . .). Or how to massage your feet
* Hold a child in your lap or sit next to a child when reading, waiting, etc.
* Ask for a hug
When your child need for touch is greater than yours, try briefer, less intense touches:
* Hello/Goodbye/Good Night/Comfort hugs and kisses
* Hugs/High Fives with “Thank You’s” and celebrations of accomplishments
* Tickling, wrestling, tag, Twister [done respectfully “No means No”]
* Holding hands, dancing, gymnastics
Using physical touch also provides opportunities to educate children about personal boundaries and respect for their bodies and for other people—including you.
Words of affirmation: “I love you,” specific, positive comments about your child, “you really enjoy playing with your train and you put all the tracks together yourself,” and acknowledgement of your child’s feelings, “it’s hard to share mom with the new baby.”
Child-focused playtime: As much as possible, let your child be in charge of the activity and tell you what to do. What a great opportunity to unwind! Even brief times when you truly focus on your child are valuable to both of you. The Incredible Years curriculum suggests describing what your child is doing—like a sport’s announcer giving a play-by-play description. That helps shift your thoughts away from whatever is stressing you, lets the child know you really are paying attention, and offers opportunities to expand your child’s vocabulary.
Setting a timer may help you be able to focus on your child. Have another positive activity planned for when playtime ends—like a snack for both of you. Or continue announcing what your child is doing as you start doing something else. Give your child a role in whatever activity you are doing. One dad gives his toddler one folded piece of clothing at a time for the child to put away. Just being in the same room together with occasional acknowledgements can also fill the need for quality time
Giving a child too many things or always doing things for a child, when he or she is capable of doing them, are not effective forms of attention. In fact, they indicate that you are not being aware of your child’s actual abilities and needs. However, thoughtful (affordable or free) gifts, given in a fun and celebratory way, can help your child feel valued. Appreciating a child’s gift—whether a dandelion or a macaroni necklace—is another way to show attention.
Finally, especially in times of stress, having someone lovingly do for you what you could do for yourself (act of service) is a wonderful form of attention.
Pay attention—everyone will benefit.
Originally published April 22, 2014 on ParentingSuccessNetwork