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Jen

Pay Attention--or Else! How Giving In Can Break the Cycle of Negative Interactions

Posted by Jen on December 2, 2009 at 7:56 AM in Parenting tips
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Here's a lesson I tend to forget over and over again:  Kids crave attention in whatever form they can get it--even if the only attention they garner comes in a negative form. Forget this one and you find yourself in a constant struggle, wondering how you can break the cycle and get back in sync with yourself and your kids.

When my kids were smaller and starting to act up, I liked to ask them this simple question:  "Do you need attention right now?"  Almost always they would respond with a wimpering, whiny "yes!"    I then followed up with a very kind and quiet-- "Do you want the getting-in-trouble kind of attention or the gentle-loving kind of attention?"  You can guess what the answer was to that one. 

From there I tried to help them narrow down what would feel best right now from this laundry list of options listed below.  Before long, they learned how to ask for exactly what they needed---not always as quickly as I would like, but at least they were beginning to understand that their feelings were connected to their needs.  Now that they are older, we still work on this point all the time, but at least we've laid the groundwork for the vocabulary we all require to solve these kinds of problems.

The point for me as a parent is to recognize that very often naughty or annoying behavior isn't so much true rebellion as it is a request from my child for me to engage in a more thoughtful manner.  The funny thing is that kids aren't the only ones acting up to get what they want--think about all the times you might huff around the house when you just need your partner to focus and listen instead.

Now that my kids are hitting new stages of emotional and physical development, their need for connection is as great as ever--a fact I'm trying to remember when tweenage moodiness puts a strain on communication and a burst in cognitive development keeps the younger one knee deep in the need for new data.

Here's the kinds of attention my kids at 8 and 11 have been longing for:

Physical affection. I try not to question the obvious. That grumpy girl still wants to crawl in my lap even though her raging pre-adolescent hormones are keeping her in a cloud of negativity. I'm learning to reach out anyway.

Listening attention.  Being a captive audience while my kids expound on playground politics or the intricacies of a new game makes a huge difference in everyone's mood and beats listening to fighting.

Playing attention.  Right now nothing makes my kids happier if we crank up the music and have a dance party where they have my focus and participation without any distraction. When I choose to give them attention in this way, the need for negative attention is easily kept at bay.

How are you breaking the negative cycle of attention seeking and getting back on track with more positive playful interactions? Do you believe attention is a requirement for children or that they need more practice managing their need for interaction on their own in order to be well-balanced adults?

7 Comments

Amber writes...

I absolutely believe that kids need attention from us, and that they tell us in a variety of ways. I find that if I'm able to give my little ones a certain level of interaction and affection every day, they tend to behave better.

Kids do also need to learn to entertain themselves, but I think that they are better equipped to learn how to do that when their need for parental interaction has been met. I've certainly found that my daughter is more willing to go off by herself when we've had some one-on-one time. So I believe that one actually leads into the other.

Erin writes...

Dang! I don't have kids, but mercy I need to learn this lesson too!

Christine writes...

I strongly agree with the writer. However, on the other hand, poor us parents! We have a zillion things to get done in only 24 hours. Sometimes, giving the attention our children deserve is at the bottom of our to-do list, or crowded out by amillion other thoughts. By the time we get halfway through our list of things to do, everybody's nerves are jagged.

If we really can keep this thought at the forefront of our minds, we will have already won half the battle!

Thanks for an insightful (yet so simple) suggestion.

Jennifer writes...

I think this is true for not only children but adults as well. All people just want attention. Giving someone attention is showing them that you love them, care for them, and will be there for them. It is not easy to ask someone to love you ~ pay attention to you ~ simply just be with you. But we crave it. I think what you are doing is magnificent. I also think teaching your children to identify what they really are looking for at such a young age is an incredible valuable lesson. When I have children I would like to do this as well. It is also a good lesson for me to learn now at 29 years old. I need to identify and ask for what my soul needs. Thank you for sharing this.

Jennifer writes...

I think this is true for not only children but adults as well. All people just want attention. Giving someone attention is showing them that you love them, care for them, and will be there for them. It is not easy to ask someone to love you ~ pay attention to you ~ simply just be with you. But we crave it. I think what you are doing is magnificent. I also think teaching your children to identify what they really are looking for at such a young age is an incredible valuable lesson. When I have children I would like to do this as well. It is also a good lesson for me to learn now at 29 years old. I need to identify and ask for what my soul needs. Thank you for sharing this.

Introvertster writes...

This is a great post. I want to add that I think there is a flip side as well. My 3.5 y.o. daughter comes from a long line of introverts. When she isn't ready for conversation (usually right after pick up from preschool), she simply doesn't answer. I tell her, "I asked you a question and you need to answer. If you don't want to talk right now and just want to be quiet, that's fine, but you need to tell me that. Not answering is not an option." She's gotten good about telling me when she just wants to be quiet and "we can talk later, Mommy."

Peter writes...

My God I needed this reminder. Thanks!

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