Kids Just Want Your (Full) Attention

pay attentionParents are busy – you make big promises about all the fun things you will do together when you can squeeze out an afternoon to go somewhere special – a trip to the children’s museum, a movie, working on a special project together, etc, etc.  You’re quite certain that you will find the time… someday… and the promises stretch into years as the career is built and childhood turns into adolescence.  When you turn around to spend all that promised time with them, surprise!  – adolescents they don’t want to be seen with their parents, a prime embarrassment to them!!!

When children are little they don’t necessarily want to go somewhere special, they just want to spent time with their parents, quality time, as in having your full attention.  But parents who are physically present in the room with children are not always present in spirit, instead engaging with technology – TVs, computers, and largely mobile devices.  Younger children feel marginalized by their parents’ rapt attention on technology – notably cell phones and i-pads – viewing mobile devices as their competition, from a very young age.

Adults that are phone addicts yearn for the constant stimulation and novelty that being online gives.  They think that their children want the same external stimulation, which is an acquired habit that they end up passing on to their children.  With summer coming, are you ready for the “I’m bored!” lament coming in the upcoming long summer days?  How do you think they became that way?

Younger children yearn for their parents’ approval, their attention, their time – initially not their money, their gifts, or their possessions.  Adolescence necessarily brings a separation from parents, as they move towards (yearn for) independence.  This is a good thing, even as it’s felt like a rebuff by parents.  Parents don’t want their cuddly young children to grow up so fast and leave them in the dust, feeling not just marginalized themselves, but downright pushed away (“please don’t let my friends see you when you drop me off”).  This is as natural a part of adolescence as it is a painful part of being the parent of an adolescent.

Raise your hand if you remember a clinging toddler crying and begging you not to leave them with a sitter/daycare.  Is this the same toddler, now an adolescent, who walks 10 paces behind or ahead of you when out shopping for school clothes less anyone sees them out in your company?  Keep telling yourself, “It’s a natural part of this stage.  S/He doesn’t really hate me. “Wash, rinse, repeat many times through the cycle (it’s a very long stage).

If it help, think about my husband’s aunt who was doing the laundry for her son (even living under a different roof!) until he was well into his 40s!!  You know you don’t want to be that person.  Let them go gracefully (and healthily).

COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY:   Young children just want to spend quality time with their parents, but they are usually trained into wanting things, which are a busy parent’s guilty conscience making up for the time they don’t feel they have to give.  The family time that is available is often not quality time when the parent is distracted by electronic devices over attention paid to the child.  Ironically, when the parent notices that the child could use some attention, is the time that the adolescent is moving towards independence and necessarily away from their parents.  So enjoy the young years, freeing your time with your child from distractions, because those precious years are fleeting, with the standoffish adolescent years certain to follow.

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