We all enjoy receiving attention at some point or another. It shows that other people are paying attention to us, which causes us to feel a sense of warmth (and sometimes embarrassment). No one needs attention as much as a toddler or young child does: paying attention to your child is essential to their emotional and mental development. Positive attention boosts their self-esteem, you as a parent get to know your child better, and you both grow to understand each other more. You will also enjoy a deeper relationship and greater communication if you practice positive attention. In other words, put down the cell phone and spend some quality time with your child! Don't let distractions stand in the way of building a relationship.
According to Julie Anne Fidler in "Reasons Children Seek Attention", toddlers who are "whiny, clingy, or act helpless...desire more positive attention from their parents." Your child is acting out in an effort to gain emotional support that they aren't receiving. So instead of getting upset when your child tries to get your attention, ask yourself 'am I giving my child the positive attention they need?'
Give your child 100% of your attention, but not 100% of the time. They need to know that there is a time when you will pay full attention to them, but also understand that your world does not revolve around them. It's all about finding balance. Spending time with your child is not the occasion to use your cell phone, but also make it clear to your child that you need time to yourself. This doesn't have to be a harsh limitation, just a carefully reinforced concept that grows over time. You don't want to neglect your child, but you don't want to give them too much attention either.
So how do you find the right balance? How do you know if your child is starved for quality attention? According to Stephanie Shott of the MOMIntitiative.com writes that children starved for attention often display 5 key signs: 1) Children create a disturbance to get your attention 2) They cry, whine, or pout a lot 3) Withdrawal from you or others 4) They tell you that you are neglecting them 5) Showing signs of depression
'Look at me,' a study from Concordia University, found that "toddlers whose parents have consistently responded positively to their attention-seeking interactions expect interactions to be fulfilling. As a result, they're eager to collaborate with their parents attempts to socialize them." In short, children who receive quality attention from you are better socialized and more eager to work with others. If you consistently positively to your child's attention seeking behavior, your child will come to expect a fulfilling interaction. They are more eager to engage with you repeatedly, because they know you will respond in a positive (and receptive) manner. Think of it as quality vs. quantity: engage in short quality time with your child, rather than lengthy, but distracted, time.
So you know your child needs quality attention, but how do you ensure they get it? What does it mean to spend quality time with your child, and what are the benefits? The Raising Children Network writes that "quality time can happen anytime and anywhere." It doesn't necessarily mean that you have to take your kids on a special outing. Quality time could be a shared laugh about something, having a conversation with them, or discovering something you both enjoy. It doesn't have to be extravagant: be in the moment and pay positive attention to your kids! Spending quality time with your child deepens your empathy for them and allows you to experience special moments that you might have otherwise missed. Quality time also helps strengthen the bond between the two of you, which you'll need when your child reaches the adolescent years. It can also be the key to reducing conflict between you and your child (Genevieve Simperingham, 2013).
If your children are starved for attention, the MOMinitiative offers some helpful advice: 1) Reflect on what has been stealing your attention from your children and begin to readjust your priorities. 2) Use your child's bedtime as a way to bond. Read them stories as a way to spend quality time with each other. 3) Learn about 'love languages', find out which one fits your child, and then put it to use! 4) Schedule a day for you and each child to go spend one-on-one time with each other. Put it on the calendar for both of you to look forward to! 5) Talk with them: find out how their day went, how school is going, etc. Take an interest in their life and show them you care.
I get it, life is busy and chaotic. But don't let momentary distractions, such as phone calls, tweets, texts, Facebook, emails, books, or other attention grabbing things get in the way of giving your child what they need. Positive, quality attention is essential, especially in the younger years. This doesn't mean older children or adolescents don't need positive attention, they just aren't as likely to seek it out as younger children. Spend time with your kids! Get to know them, their interests, watch them when they ask you to, and let them know you're there for them. That will go a lot further than a Facebook post.
Emily Taylor is a graduate of Western Carolina University. She intends to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and it is her goal to work with individuals who suffer from affective disorders. Emily has worked with children of all ages for over 10 years; she has also tutored college students and served as a mentor.