It’s 5:45 p.m. and a mom has just gotten off work and picked her child up from daycare. They are at the grocery store getting something for supper, and the 15-month-old child is in the seat of the grocery cart. Mom is obviously tired and stressed. The child starts whining quietly. Mom says, “Don’t you start whining.” The child starts to cry and Mom says, “Stop that crying right now!” Now the child starts to hit her mom.
Across the grocery store is a dad with his son in the seat of the grocery cart. Dad looks the little boy in the eye and with great enthusiasm says, “Hey buddy! What should we buy next? Should we buy bananas?” The little guy beams at his dad and they head for the produce section. Now Dad says, “How many bananas should we buy? Six? Ok, let’s get six!” Even though his son does not understand much of what Dad is saying, he is totally enthralled.
What do kids need from us? They need US! No matter how you look at it, what kids want most is to be with US, the important adults in their lives. The more positive attention kids get, the quicker they learn the rules of behavior, the faster they establish a positive self esteem, and the less demanding they become. Kids will fight to get attention even if they have to do it in a negative way, even when they know there will be a negative consequence.
How Do We Give Kids Positive Attention?
- Look at behavior. When your child is misbehaving, ask yourself if this is really about a need for attention. Does the child’s attention battery need recharging? Try giving more attention at times when your child is acting appropriately, so you are not rewarding misbehavior.
- Eye contact is important. Look your child in the eye and let your face show how important he or she is to you. Get rid of distractions like TV and other screens.
- Use respectful listening. When your child wants to talk to you, be a good listener. Get down on the child’s level, hold his or her hands, and let the child complete thoughts without interrupting.
- Acknowledge your child’s feelings, even if they are negative.
Child: “I hate my teacher!”
Typical Response: “You don’t hate your teacher! You shouldn’t say things like that!”
A Better Response: “It sounds like you are really angry about something that happened at school today. Do you want to tell me about it?”
- Accept your child’s ideas even if they are a little crazy!
Child: “I’m going to hit a home run every time I bat in T-ball!”
Typical Response: “No one hits a home run every time. Don’t think you’re so great.”
A Better Response: “That’s an exciting plan! We’ll try to practice and see how close you can get.”
- Think about screen time. This is a tough one, and most parents don’t like to hear it! But when you are on a screen—TV, computer, phone, iPad, whatever it might be—you can be right next to your child, but you are not really with him or her. Children need to feel that they are just as important if not more important than our screens!
- Catch them being good! When children hear positive words about their good behavior, they are more likely to repeat it. Try to use positive communication 75 percent of the time when you interact with your child.
Does this mean we have to give our children our undivided attention all the time? Absolutely not! Being the center of attention all the time is not healthy either. Children need time to themselves to learn to play alone, to reflect, and to develop thinking skills. They also need to learn that other people sometimes need alone time, too. Using positive attention appropriately may help your child become more confident and may lead to better behavior over time.