Tag Archive for attention

Enjoying Your Child–Priceless

Parenting is hard work. We have schedules to keep, dinners to prepare, messes to clean up, occupational demands, yards to keep, clothes to wash…. The work never ends. Sometimes we get so caught up in the day to day activities of life and in providing for our children, teaching our children, and disciplining our children that we forget to enjoy our children. So, I encourage you to enjoy your child. Spend an evening playing games with them. Go into the back yard and play. Sit on the porch and play cards. Some of my best memories of childhood involve playing board games with my family. Some of my happiest times as an adult also involve playing board games with my family. You don’t have to play board games. You can play imaginative games like “Teacher” (of course your child will probably be the teacher and you the student), Barbie’s, army, catch.
I remember playing Barbie’s with my daughter during her preschool years. Sometimes, we had differences of opinion regarding the direction of the play. I wanted to make Ken to fly, have Barbie ride horseback on a giant bug, or join forces to fight the bad guys and save the world; my daughter wanted to dress Ken and Barbie up, go to a party, and sit by the pool, drink tea, and talk. I still cherish the memory of those times of play in spite of our different ideas. I learned so much about my daughter while playing Barbie’s with her. As she made up various scenarios, I learned about her interests and her friends. I learned what aroused fear in her as we acted out various scenes. Under her direction and supervision, we enacted meeting new people, resolving arguments, getting along during disagreements, and sharing important life events… unintentionally practicing a variety of life skills through imaginative interactions.
I also watched my daughter grow more capable in managing her emotions. She would get somewhat frustrated with me at times–I guess I am a frustrating guy at times. After all, I didn’t “talk like Barbie,” my voice was too low. She insisted that I speak in falsetto. In spite of my efforts, I would slip up and she would have to make adjustments–“Oh, you have a cold today, don’t you?” or “Daddy, that’s the wrong voice.” I would quickly slip back into my falsetto. Each time though, she became more efficient at handling her emotions when things did not go as she planned. When she let me play Ken, I would “tease her,” suggesting that Ken could fly. She would calmly insist that Ken could not fly and restate the order of the “proper scene” for me. On occasion, she would even compromise. “OK Daddy, today he can fly. Just this time though.” The skills gained in compromise and negotiation…all from playing Barbie.
Perhaps most important, playing Barbie allowed me to spend time with my daughter and develop a more intimate relationship. I don’t even know if she remembers playing Barbie with me. But, I know that those imaginative moments allowed us to laugh together, celebrate imagined and real victories together, and share sorrow over imagined and real loses together. Over all, imaginative moments with Barbie allowed my daughter and me to build a deeper and more secure bond in our relationship. If you don’t get hand-me downs, here is a price list to gain the equipment necessary to play Barbie with your daughter: Barbie doll-$12; clothes for Barbie-$10, time with my daughter building our relationship-priceless!

A Carnival of Parents

I enjoyed a day at a local amusement park with my family this weekend. My daughters are getting older now and they spend much of the day with their friends; but, we still eat supper together and meet throughout the day. Their independence does allow me and my wife to enjoy time together.  It also allows me some time to people watch. I love to people watch.  At an amusement park you find a whole carnival of people, a funhouse of parenting ideas. I wanted to share some of what I saw.
I saw the “cell-phone-guy.” He stood in line with his child, but didn’t talk to him. Instead, he played with his cell phone. When his child tried to talk to him, the cell-phone-guy nodded his head and said “Hmmm” at best. Other times, he didn’t respond at all. He just stood silently in line next to his child looking at his cell phone. I used to hate standing in lines at amusement parks too. But then I realized that lines were great opportunities to talk with my daughter. We could talk about anything, including things of no importance. We could talk and build relationship. The cell-phone-guy never learned this; so he missed the opportunity of the line. He was more invested in playing a game, checking his e-mail, or texting a friend than in having conversation with his child. This missed opportunity communicates a dangerous message to his child—a message that his child is not as important as whatever he was doing on his cell phone, that a relationship with his child is less important than a relationship with his cell phone. The “cell-phone-guy” eventually produces the “cell-phone-family.” I saw them at the park too. You know, parent and child standing in line, both playing with their cell phones but not interacting with each other at all. “Cat’s in the cradle” I guess. These families left the park at the same time, but definitely not together…traveled home in the same car, but invested in their own isolated world of earplugs and cell phone screens.
I also saw the “just-get-on-the-ride-and-have-fun-guy.” This guy looked tired…and grumpy. He wasn’t having any fun at all. He just wanted to get the day over with. He looked as though he’d rather be anyplace other than the amusement park with his kids–at home watching ESPN, reading the paper, even cutting the grass. When asked if he was having fun, he replied “yes” but his face didn’t get the message. He looked as though a smile might cause a facial earthquake and tsunami that would result in an angry explosion of nuclear proportions. When his children asked about getting a drink, he boiled over…the proverbial camel’s back was broken–“Just get on the ride and have fun!” he “yelled.” Sometimes the “just-get-on-the-ride-and-have-fun-guy” transformed into the “cell-phone-guy” when he escaped into his twitter account to get the update on the recent sporting events or local news. Still, he wasn’t having any fun at the amusement park. Unfortunately, neither was his family. They were walking on egg shells, holding Mommy’s hand and looking forlornly at the lemonade stand they just passed up.
Of course, there was the “attentive-fun-loving-guy” too. In fact, most of the people in the park fit into this category. They were having a great time. Parent and child talking and laughing, pointing out exotic hairdos, screaming joyfully as they flew down the roller coaster, fixing one another’s hair after spinning around like a dryer. These families took advantage of every opportunity to enjoy one another’s company, play together, eat together, and build intimacy. They were all smiles and laughter. They went home exhausted, but joyful.
I’ve been all three of these guys on different occasions. Well, maybe not the “cell-phone-guy” because I’m still working on learning how to text. But, I’ve been distracted by other things–finances, work, the lawn, who’s winning the baseball game. When these distractions became more important than my family time at the amusement park, I became the “worried-about-everything-but-here-and-now-guy,” which is really a prehistoric (pre-technology) version of the “cell-phone-guy,” the “Neanderthal-cell-phone-guy” so to speak. And, I’ve had those days of “just-get-on-the-ride-and-have-fun-guy” as well. I hope that my family remembers me as the “attentive-fun-loving-guy” on most family days. That’s what is important—which guy we are on most of our family days. Who we are most of the time shapes our children’s lives and relationships, not just to us but to others. So, put away the cell phones, set aside the worries and distractions, enjoy time with your family. Become the “attentive-fun-loving-parent.” Enjoy your family…have fun. At the end of the day, you’ll be glad you did!

Misbehavior: A Call for Love?

“Why do they do it?” I ask, pulling my hair out in frustration. “Why do they continue to misbehave?” Good question. After all, we teach our children to make wise choices and they continue to misbehave. Sometimes it’s just immaturity, but they continue to misbehave as they mature…why? Parenting experts offer some interesting insights in this regard. Some have said that “Behaviors such as complaining, worrying, shouting, and nagging are all disguised calls for love” (G. Godek). A call for love, eh? Well, “it ain’t working.” Still, I do believe it is true. When children are scared or confused or when they feel threatened or disconnected, they will “call for love.” They “call for love” through their behavior…and, misbehavior represents an ineffective communication of that need. Misbehavior, a miscommunicated “call for love,” may flow from any of four directions. Let’s look at them one at a time. 
     1.      A child’s “call for love” may flow from a desire for attention. Everyone desires attention. We know someone loves us when they pay attention to us. If a person consistently ignores us, we assume they don’t really like us that much. If, in the midst of busy schedules, our child finds it difficult to elicit our undivided attention, he may learn to get our undivided attention through misbehavior. He may learn that “good behavior” elicits very little attention while misbehavior leads to energetic attention and interaction, that simple misbehavior demands our immediate attention. We may unintentionally teach him that needing constant reminders, coaxing, and nagging elicits our attention. In a child’s world, attention equals love and negative attention is better than no attention at all. Parents can respond to this “call for love” by giving their child positive attention when opportunities arise. Plan one-on-one time with him. Encourage him. Acknowledge his appropriate behavior with simple comments. Establish routines of connection at bedtime, mealtime, and morning. 
2.      A child’s “call for love” may also flow from feeling inadequate. A child who feels inadequate often believes that he does not belong unless he is perfect. Parents may have contributed to this belief with unrealistic expectations or overly critical responses. Whatever the contributors, this child gives up or misbehaves so others will leave him alone, view him as helpless, and hold him to low expectations. The child who feels inadequate has a deep-seated need for someone to believe in him. Parents can respond to this “call for love” by stopping any undue criticism. Offer encouragement for positive effort and behavior instead. Focus on strengths and abilities. Set up opportunities for successes. Build on his interests and strengths. Enjoy your child’s strengths and let him know you enjoy him.
3.      A child’s “call for love” may erupt from feeling powerless. A child who feels powerless believes that she is only worthy when she is in control. She may even fear the unpredictability of feeling out of control. One of the easiest ways to feel in control is to refuse to do what others tell us to do. “They can’t control me” and “You’re not the boss of me” are the implicit messages of a child whose misbehavior is rooted in feeling powerless. Unfortunately, becoming angry and threatening or challenging this child will only intensify her defiance and the energy she invests in winning. The first step in responding to a child who feels powerless is to avoid the power struggle. When we step into the power struggle with this child, she has already won. Do not argue. Talk less and act more. Let the “reality of consequences” do the talking. No need to argue about picking up the toys. Calmly offer the choice, “You can pick up your toys now or after dinner. If they are still there tonight, I will put them in time out for the rest of the week.” No arguing, no debating, no lecturing—just a choice and a consequence. Parents can also limit power struggles by eliciting help from the child whenever possible.
4.      A child’s “call for love” may overflow from hurt feelings as well. When a child’s feelings are hurt, she may misbehave to hurts other people’s feelings, to get even in a sense. She may believe that she can’t be liked or loved, so she might as well let others hurt like she does. This child’s parents may think, “How could she do this to me?” They feel hurt, disappointed, or even disgusted by their child’s behavior. In this situation, a parent finds that dealing with the hurt feelings will often help change the misbehavior. Listen. Make amends for any hurt feelings. Express empathy. Show your child, through actions, how much you care. As you lean into the relationship with your child and accept her feelings, you will have the opportunity to explore solutions to her behavior.

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.

Family, A Haven in a Heartless World

“The family is a haven in a heartless world.” ~Attributed to Christopher Lasch
Each morning my family leaves our home and enters the discouraging, oppressive world of work or school. That may sound harsh, but true none the less…just watch the news. Students enter the “sacred halls of education” through metal detectors and security guards to sit in classrooms as canine police sniff out lockers for paraphernalia. In the classrooms and hallways, kids strive to satisfy an unquenchable thirst for attention at the expense of their peers. Queen bees slander other students and top dogs humiliate those under them on the social ladder. Each month, we witness multiple news reports of bullying and media harassment; or, we listen as our children tell us about all the “drama” that goes on between students. 
At work, we find ourselves pushed to work longer hours, accomplish more, and meet productivity standards established by financial demands rather than human need. Even shopping has become potentially dangerous. Congresswomen and judges risk getting shot in the mall. On a smaller level, fights and arguments break out in stores as stressed staff wait on angry customers. Police and security guards patrol the halls of most malls. Is it any surprise that we come home exhausted, frustrated, and agitated from a day of work, school, or shopping in the “heartless world”? But, we do come home. Home sweet home, a haven of rest amidst the chaos of life.
Hopefully, our home does provide a haven of hope, an oasis of encouragement and peace. Family provides the shade from the hot desert sun, the refreshing drink that quenches our thirst, the cool lotion that soothes our burnt skin… alright, enough with the cliché metaphors (sorry, got carried away). Let’s get to the point. How do we make our families a safe haven, an oasis of peace and restoration? We do so by establishing three distinctive traits in our home and family life.
First, turn your home into a place of honor. Honor one another with polite speech, encouraging words, and loving praise. Listen attentively to one another. Serve one another without complaining. Treat one another with kindness. Express gratitude for kindness received. Learn about something that interests another family member. Do something nice for family members on a regular basis. All these actions, and more, show honor and, practiced regularly, establish honor as a hallmark in the family.
Second, turn your home into a place of grace. Give one another the gift of your time. In the midst of your busy life, remain available and attentive to one another. Give the gift of your attention, acknowledging the value of each family member’s presence in your life. Give respect and kindness even when the other person does not deserve it. Sacrifice your own desires in order to satisfy the needs and desires of your family. Expect nothing in return. Simply treat your family with love. You will find that such grace breeds more grace and more love, more respect and more sensible living.  
Third, transform your family into a celebrating community. Celebrate successes, failures, and everything in between. Enjoy another’s company during meals. Laugh together. Play together. Have a game night, movie night, or some other activity night. Celebrate birthdays and holidays. Make up your own days of celebration. Give gifts for no reason at all. Actively seek out ways to enjoy celebrating with your family any chance you get.
By practicing these behaviors in your family, you transform your home into a celebrating community of honor and grace that will serve as an oasis of rest and peace, a haven in the midst of a heartless world.

Family Bank of Honor

“Easy come, easy go” rings true, doesn’t it? We work hard to save money. We put a portion of every paycheck aside (when we can) and it collects a little (very little these days) interest. Then the furnace goes out, the hot water heater breaks, a fender bender necessitates a new rear bumper, or the kids outgrow their clothes. We dip into savings to meet that need and those deposits disappear. One withdrawal drains us of multiple deposits. Now that I think of it, “easy come, easy go” is only partially true. Perhaps it should read “hard to come, easy to go.”
At any rate, the principle of “easy come, easy go” holds true in the “Family Bank of Honor” as well. We rarely speak directly about this bank, but we act on it all the time. We make regular, daily deposits into the “Family Bank of Honor” by practicing daily acts of kindness, respect, grace, and celebration. Every time we listen and respond in love, we make a deposit into the “Family Bank of Honor.” When we speak to one another with kindness or give encouragement and praise, we make a deposit into the “Family Bank of Honor.” A hug, a kiss, or even a loving slap on the back, represents another deposit into the “Family Bank of Honor.” Sometimes, the deposits are obvious; other times, they are subtle and less clear, like honoring one another’s efforts to connect by responding with energy and attention. Whether obvious or not, we make multiple deposits each day into the “Family Bank of Honor.”  With each deposit, we enrich our relationships and accrue more emotional savings in the “Family Bank of Honor.”
Then the furnace breaks–an argument crops up, a misunderstanding flares, an irritable day turns into a nasty remark. You know the times. We all have times when we make withdrawals from the “Family Bank of Honor,” times when we act dishonorably. Unfortunately, that single withdrawal drains multiple deposits from the “Family Bank of Honor.” One heated disagreement, occurring on a day of irritation, drains our account. We remember the one dishonorable word spoken during a heated exchange more readily than the five sentences of praise spoken in moments of calm. Hopefully, we have made enough deposits of honor, both great and small, to maintain a positive balance in our “Family Bank of Honor.”
One marital researcher, John Gottman, reports that happy couples have at least five good exchanges for every one negative exchange during an argument. He also noted that “master couples” have as many as twenty positive experiences for every one negative experience when they are normally engaged. In other words, happy couples have at least five more positive feelings and interaction than unhappy couples, five to twenty deposits for every withdrawal. So, here is the basic two-step plan for investing in the “Family Bank of Honor:”
      1.      Take every opportunity to make a deposit into the “Family Bank of Honor.” Every day, make as many deposits as possible.
      2.      Focus on making deposit rather than worrying about withdrawals. Make five to twenty deposits for each withdrawal. When you do make a withdrawal, apologize. A sincere apology becomes a deposit that puts you back on the road toward accruing savings in the “Family Bank of Honor.”
With this ratio of deposits to withdrawal, we begin to build a home environment of honor. But, the question remains, exactly how do we make a deposit of honor? Here are a few simple ideas:
·         Listen to family members and accept their suggestions
·         Keep family members’ in mind–their interests, desires, quirks, tender areas, and strengths.
·         Seek out ways to serve one another
·         Sacrifice your own desires to do something that interests a family member
·         Use kind and encouraging words
·         Be polite
For more ideas for making deposits in the “Family Bank of Honor,” see the “Family Bank of Honor” section and click on Honor, Grace, or Celebrate.
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