Using your attention wisely
One of the most overlooked, and yet one of the most powerful, tools that parents have at their disposal, is the attention they give their child — how much of it and for what.
The attention we give our children can be a factor in developing certain problems and in helping to shape some unwanted behaviours:
Attention for the wrong things
We seem to be reminded constantly of the dangers to children. Is it any wonder then that we can at times be anxious for our children when they explore the world by wanting to climb trees, be friendly with everyone they meet, forget to wash their hands, etc? However this constant vigilance may act to inhibit our children’s natural curiosity. It may prevent them from fully partaking in a range of activities and so lose out on opportunities to both develop skills and make friends.
Take the situation where the child is actually getting plenty of attention from his parents, but this attention tends to be mostly negative, eg, giving out, shouting, etc. Too much of this type of attention can stunt the child’s spirit. Because he has heard that he is naughty so often, he may come to believe it.
Positive attention with too little direction
In this situation the child is receiving a lot of ‘good’ attention in the form of praise, hugs, affirmations, etc. However the parents may find it more difficult to use their attention to also point out the rules or set standards of behaviour for their children. While they may be brilliant at all sorts of positive attention, they may not understand or have the skills to use their attention to also highlight when their child does something wrong.
Too little attention of any sort
All children have the need to gain their parents’ attention, and while most get plenty of attention there are some children who do not. This is not good for the child and he may resort to aggressive, disruptive, behaviours in an effort to get some attention. Children may find it difficult to get their parents’ attention for many reasons. For example a child may be one of a large family, both his parents may work outside the home, parents may be too tired at the end of their working day to play with their children, etc.
It is important to be aware of the type and amount of attention your child is getting and to strive to achieve a balance. It might be worth reviewing your interactions with your child over one day and asking yourself how you can improve your interactions.
If you do get to spend plenty of time with your child and in general have primarily positive interactions with him, that is great, you are developing a strong and trusting relationship which is vital to your child as he or she grows and develops.
If, on the other hand, you have some concerns about the type of interactions you are habitually having with your child, take some more time and examine the situation more closely. Try to build up a better picture by answering the following questions:
Is your attention mostly negative?
How is it negative — do you tend to shout, nag, give out, slap, etc?
Is there a particular behaviour that gets this cycle of behaviour going, eg, sibling squabbles, whining, etc?
What is the opposite of this behaviour, eg, child asking for something in a normal voice?
Could you change this situation by doing something different?
There are a number of practical solutions you could consider to make things better for you and your child. Some suggestions include:
Make an effort to get home earlier.
If you are tired and stressed when with the children, try to get more sleep.
Try to notice your child being good — instead of catching him misbehave, catch him being good and praise him for that.
Try using your attention to build up another skill, eg, only attend to your child when using a normal voice to ask for things and ignore whining.
Could you praise some other behaviour that is directly opposite to the misbehaviour but more appropriate, eg, every time your children interact well with each other praise them for this, and ignore the times they slip up.
If your child is having difficulty with a particular behaviour, how about teaching him a new skill to replace the unwanted behaviour? Eg, teach him to ask for a toy instead of pulling it from his sibling.
Keep an eye on your stress level — if you are too stressed it will negatively impact on your parenting ability.
Giving no attention (ignoring) can often be more powerful than giving negative attention.
For more information, visit www.RollerCoaster.ie — Ireland’s No 1 website for pregnancy and parenting.