My four-year-old daughter Olivia doesn’t let any display of affection that she’s not part of escape her notice. Even when she seems to be happily absorbed in an activity, she’ll somehow detect any gesture of affection passed between my husband and I. We’ll hear an instantaneous outcry of, “I WANT A HUG TOO!” “SMILE AT ME MOMMY!” “DAD, THAT’S MY MOMMY.” These are the very common pleas for attention and inclusion that I hear from her on a daily basis.
Receiving attention feels good and it makes us feel special, and younger children especially have a strong desire to be the center of attention. For many parents of young kids, however, it can feel like you’re providing endless attention and it doesn’t seem to be having any effect on squelching your child’s neediness.
I think when you are noticing this kind of behavior from your young child, you can assume that he or she is exercising a desire to be noticed, heard, and have a sense of belonging in your family.
If you step back outside of your adult arena and employ some imagination as to how your child might experience being part of a family, it can be eye-opening. What I mean by this is that kids are surrounded by adults who have this sophisticated social skill set that they use to relate to other adults. How do kids compete with this or stand their own ground and make sure that they are seen and heard? How do they penetrate this intricate system of adult interactions and get involved? Well, I think they do this as only kids can—in a very simple, honest, unforgettable ways. Sometimes this means breaking out in song and sometimes it’s a full-blown tantrum!
As adults it can be very easy to adopt the perspective that younger children should have and show more self-control than what they actually can and do. What can look like defiant behavior on the outside can actually be a child seeking out, in the best way that they can, having a legitimate need fulfilled, like attention.
If you find that your child is acting out frequently, an important thing to ask yourself is, “Am I giving my child enough attention?” Unfortunately, some days I feel like I literally spend about 10 minutes of quality time with my daughter Olivia day in and day out. It can seem like each day is strung together by the familiar thread of having too much to do and not enough time to do it. I think the reality for a lot of families today is that 10 minutes may even exceed the amount of time that people are actually spending with their children! When I say this, I specifically mean time that is thoughtful, attentive, and focused completely on the child. Unfortunately, you can’t count folding laundry, cooking dinner, running errands, or any other task as spending quality time with your child even though it’s part of what you’re doing to take care of them—however, you can involve your child when doing these things and make an effort to make it fun.
Quality time involves focusing your attention solely on your child and being fully committed to noticing them and showing them your appreciation for who they are and what they’re interested in. My goal as a parent has been to reduce the times that I say the following to my daughter when asked to play: “I’m sorry Liv, I wish I could spend some time with you doing X but I have to….” I’m learning more and more how meaningful a moment or 10 minutes can be when you are fully present when spending time with your little one.
I had one very special moment like this just recently. It was a typical night of going through the bedtime routine and Liv had just gotten out of her bath. She relishes when I take care of her by patting her dry with the towel and brushing her hair. On this particular night I decided to share some of my Argan oil that I has purchased for my hair; I rubbed a small dot in my hand and started to massage her scalp. As I worked it through her hair she said, “Mom, that smells so good,” and with that she closed her eyes, lifted her head and took a deep breath in and smiled. This was such a delicious moment, a ping of joy that made my heart burst with gratitude and love.
I urge all parents to remember that it is the small and ordinary things that make our lives so special and families feel connected. Each day is an opportunity to create moments like this with our families.
Please share how you make your limited time count with your kids….