“Kids aren’t just doing what they do for attention. They’re looking for connection. When they can’t get connection they SETTLE for attention.”
– Steven Foster, via the folks from Circle of Security
Wow, that’s big. Kids are looking for connection but will settle for attention. And if you are a parent, you know that the attention kids will settle for is positive or negative, as long as they are receiving it. It drives us all crazy, the seemingly endless demands to listen, watch, play, engage. Not to mention the way those demands show up – sometimes sweet with big puppy eyes, sometimes high-pitched with arms flailing, sometimes as mischief that leads us to a place of not-so-proud parenting moments.
Kids are looking for connection, but will settle for attention.
So what does this mean for parents? It certainly doesn’t mean that we should be at the beck and call of our children, responding with every request with “yes.” It doesn’t mean that there is something “wrong” with our children. It doesn’t mean that we have somehow spoiled them into thinking the world revolves around them.
To me, this powerful statement is an invitation. An invitation to look deeply at the time I am spending building relationship with my children. When challenges and bids for attention show up in my home, I take it as an opportunity to reflect on how much time I have spent connecting with my kids. I think about the last time we played together, when I was fully engaged in the experience and seeing the world out of my child’s eyes. I remember that things run a lot smoother around here when I put all of my adult distractions down, and make a practice of being present with my kids when they have something to say.
Connecting with my kids is a daily practice for me. What I notice is, when there is time each day when my kids and I connect, there is less demands for attention overall. It’s proactive.
And when I speak of connecting, what I am talking about is building relationship. It is through the relationship that you create with your kids that they begin to see the virtues and strengths in themselves. Put another way, they see themselves through our eyes. Who are they seeing when they look out of your eyes?
When I take time to connect with my kids, they are learning that they matter, what they say is important, they belong in our family. It may be while I lie on their bed at the end of the day and they tell me all about what’s going on at school. It may be while I am outside in the driveway, learning to rip stick and taking tips from my son. It may be on our walk to the bus stop in the morning. There are endless opportunities to connect each day.
Connection and relationship building also occurs when I encourage my kids and hold space for them to be their best. This comes from noticing them and their actions. “I noticed that you hung your backpack up when you got home today.” I also encourage them when I appreciate them. “Thank you for turning the lights off before you came downstairs this morning.”
The most powerful way of encouraging my kids is when they know that I trust and have faith in them. It is important here that I am genuine and have evidence to back up my claim; “I saw you spend an hour putting together that Lego house yesterday. You used perseverance to get it done, even though it got tricky and you had to go back and redo one of the sides, you didn’t give up. I have faith that you can use that same perseverance that lives inside you to finish this math homework.”
Using encouragement as a way to manipulate our kids into obedience is a lost cause. Using it to build relationship, to let them know that we see them and their strengths, increases their sense of connection and decreases the likelihood they will feel the need to demand attention from us all day. It’s all about relationship.
So the next time your kids are driving you crazy with their endless bids for attention, take a moment to reflect on the relationship you have formed with them. Do they feel connected? Do they feel seen? Do you make a point of being present with them? Then, each day, create a practice of working on your relationship with them. Notice them; encourage them; play with them. Changing what you do, and how you show up as a parent, is a long-term solution to the mischief kids get into around attention.
And it makes the parenting journey a lot more fun.
Casey O’Roarty has a 7-week Parenting with Positive Discipline class beginning March 17 at Eastside Natural Medicine in Kirkland. For more information about the class, and other offerings she has that support parents, go to www.joyfulcourage.com.