Your Child’s Currency for Love
Children have two currencies for love: TIME and ATTENTION. When parents give time and attention to their child, the child believes he has a place of importance and value in his parents’ lives. Unfortunately, parents often get so caught up in their busy lives that they only give their children distracted attention. Distracted attention is half-hearted attention, attention split between two or more things. Parents give distracted attention when they invest their energy in a project while pretending to listen to something their child is saying. The parent can hear their child’s words, but the meaning just doesn’t register. After giving distracted attention, the parent knows that their child spoke to them, but they probably can’t remember what was said. The distracted parent often responds to their child’s statements with words like, “Oh yeah,” “OK,” or “Really?’ without really knowing what the child said. Children who receive distracted attention on a regular basis feel insignificant and unimportant. Eventually, they will quit coming to the parent. And, they will learn to give us the same distracted attention the parent gives them.
Sometimes parents give their children selfish attention. A parent offering selfish attention pays attention just enough to formulate a response. This may mean only listening to the first half of what they say. Selfish attention often listens just long enough to get a response before rudely interrupting them to “share wisdom.” A parent giving selfish attention may also pretend to listen to the whole story, but really have a response figured out after the first sentence. Parents who give selfish attention seem to believe that their answer is so important that they have to say it immediately. They can’t sit back and listen for the sake of focusing on and understanding their child. No, those who offer selfish attention need to look good, have an answer, and reveal their insights. The child who receives selfish attention from a parent on a regular basis may feel unheard and grow angry or resentful toward the parent.
Other parents give critical attention. They pay close attention to their child, but do so to discover what he does wrong. Parents that offer critical attention often offer insults and criticisms to their child. They respond to their child with statements like, “Can’t you see I’m busy you spoiled brat?” or “Don’t you get mad at me, I’m your mother!” or “You don’t even care how much I sacrifice for you-you’ve ruined my life, you ungrateful…” In these instances, a child does get attention, but the attention is critical of them. As you can imagine, a child who receives critical attention often feels inadequate and unworthy.
Family shepherds give their children genuine attention. Here are three components of genuine attention.
· Genuine attention is undivided attention. When a child requests attention, verbally or non-verbally, the family shepherd puts aside other distractions and gives their child undivided attention. You may be thinking, “I don’t have time for that.” Sometimes you may not. When your time is short, you can even explain that you are very busy, but you can only give them 5 minutes of undivided attention right now. In these instances, a child who receives your undivided attention for several minutes is often satisfied. On the other hand, we can generally offer undivided attention more often than we admit. After all, which is more important: our children or the game, our children or a hobby, our children or the lawn? What we prioritize receives our undivided attention. Children deserve our priority.
· Genuine attention tarries. I like the word “tarry.” We rarely use it today, but I like it. I like to “tarry” at the park on a warm day, “tarry” on the beach when the sun is bright, “tarry” with a friend during good conversation. Our children need us to “tarry” with them. They want us to have unhurried interactions with them as often as possible. In the currency of love, they want quantity of time, not just quality. They want the quantity of 25 old, ragged dollar bills (quantity time) instead of the one new, crisp 5 dollar bill of great quality. Every chance you get, “tarry” with your children.
· Genuine attention is sensitive and responsive to their child. We don’t talk about the weather when a child seeks attention by asking about supper. We strive to remain sensitive to their need, their mood, and their request when we give them attention. Sometimes this is difficult because they do not clearly verbalize their true need and desire. They may express anger when they are actually upset and hurt by a friend. A sensitive parent pays attention to the hurt, not just the anger.
We all give distracted attention, selfish attention, and critical attention from time to time. We get overwhelmed with life and offer distracted attention or so tired that we offer critical attention. What is important is the overall pattern of attention we offer our children. We need to work to give genuine attention most of the time.