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February 18th, 2014

Children Are Hard Wired For Attention

Naughty girl

Parents often comment on the difficulty of managing multiple children and how everyone  always clamours for mum’s attention.

Attention is always a good place to start when thinking about being an effective parent.  Rule No. 1 is that children are hardwired to seek our attention.  It ensured their survival when we all lived in caves.  When everyone is striving to get our attention it is helpful to replace the thoughts ‘Why are they so demanding’, ‘Can’t they see I am overwhelmed’, ‘How do they expect me to do everything at once’………..with the thought ‘of course they want my attention – they’re hardwired for this’.  It doesn’t immediately turn the moment into sweetness and light, but it does make you feel a bit more empathetic towards them….and realize they are not doing this because they are thoughtless and mean.

Here are a few tips to help smooth the way:

Ensure you notice and comment on good behaviour significantly more than bad.  All too often we say nothing when they are behaving well and only pay attention when they are starting to misbehave.  From a kid’s perspective any attention is better than none – so they will take the bad route if they have to.

Try to carve out some individual time for each child.  It may only be 30 mins once a week, but in those 30 minutes let the child lead the activity.  It might be a dolls’ tea party with your five year old daughter or a game of hide and seek with your eight year old son.   The point is they will feel valued and special by having this time – and it is about their agenda – so no pretending it is special time with mum whilst they practice their times tables!

Every so often organise individual ‘daddy dates’.  Perhaps a visit to Pizza Express, a trip to the Science Museum but it could also be as simple as a walk in the park.  Diarise it in advance and mention it in the run up to the event.  It will make the child feel you are really focused on them.

Turn your phone off over meal times so you are not continually distracted and can have a proper conversation.  It is also excellent modeling for the times we want them to turn off their digital devices.

If your children continually talk over each other, institute a talking stick.  This was an ancient Native American tradition where only the person with the talking stick was allowed to speak and they were always allowed to finish before the talking stick was handed over to the next person.  Start with a physical stick and then move to a metaphorical one once everyone understands the concept.

Try to promote collaboration between siblings – not competition.  You want your children to feel there is plenty of attention to go round and they are not in a competition for it.  In this vain try to avoid saying things like ‘I wish you could be more organized in the mornings like your sister’, ‘why can’t you eat as nicely as your brother’, ‘the first child to finish their dinner is the winner’.

Schedule quality family relaxation time at the weekend.  Play a board game together, have a long lunch in which everyone gets involved in helping to prepare and clear up.  Go and play catch in the playground.  Ensure the weekend is not just a non-stop series of scheduled activities with children and parents all going in separate ways

In a recent survey by UNICEF UK the thing that children wanted most from their parents was not more toys, or more electrical gadgets…..it was simply more time with their parents.

Try the suggestions above. The funny thing you find about children, the more they feel confident of having your attention, the less they fear they are going to be criticised for asking for your attention……the less they clamour for it!

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