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Last night, while sitting at my nephew’s baseball game, the antics of my other nephew reminded me just how important it is to young children that we adults see them. We had a rousing game of peek-a-boo going on, for one, but about every five minutes he climbed up the bleachers to get a hug from mom or dad or show us something he’d found, or share something he’d seen or said while playing with his cousins.
I’ve written about this need before here, along with some insights from Becky Bailey about how we can respond to children in such situations without judgment. One of the advantages of noticing our children and observing them without judgment is that they are less inclined to misbehave from a place of seeking any attention, even if it’s negative. We can pre-empt much of this by making sure they know that, just like we did when they were newborns and we oohed and aaahhhed over every little body part or gurgle, we still see them as the miracles they are.
This morning, however, I wanted to share some thoughts about noticing kids from the book I’m currently reading, Playful Parenting. The author, Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D., talks about noticing, “what children need” (pg. 36). In a Kindermusik class, for instance, if your child is unusually cranky or disengaged with the activity, noticing what he or she needs might include wondering if breakfast was sufficient or if the big trip to the zoo yesterday means being extra tired today. Maybe some quiet time away from the commotion is in order.
Most pointedly, the author says, “I’m always amazed when adults say that children ‘just did that to gedt attention.’ Naturally children who need attention will do all kinds of things to try to get it. Why not just give it to them?” (pg. 36).
Of course, there are many reasons I don’t often given my kids enough attention, as I’m sure there are for you. There is food to get on the table, laundry to clean, and sometimes, I’m the one who needs some attention, too! (In which case, a lunch with my friends is clearly in order.) Still, remembering just how valuable it is for the long-term emotional health of our kids can be extremely important.
The author also adds that it is important not to “cut off” our kids when “they are talking about ‘unimportant’ things, or when they are chattering away about nothing, or when they are repeating themselves” (pg. 39). I know I don’t like it when my kids cut me off or ignore what I am saying—and the best thing we can do is teach by example, right? Eventually, they’ll get around to the part that is really interesting for us, and then the payoff will be pretty great.
I’m knee deep in summer sibling rivalry. As an only child growing up, I often find this kind of behavior to be extremely draining, and the logic behind it escapes me. Today, however, in the middle of the 4th of July family madness, I’m going to see how well the day goes if I focus on noticing their good behavior (without judgment) and wondering what they might be needing (from me or from the situation) when they’re fighting. I’m also going to tune in to myself—to note what it is that may be preventing me from playfully engaging with them. With any luck, such a tweak may help the day go better.