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Meeting the Attention Needs of Children

Several months ago my wife and I were having lunch out. Upon entering the restaurant I noticed the cutest little boy and guessed him to be about four or five years old. He stood by his mom’s side wiggling and waiting to be seated. He would occasionally look my way and I would smile or wink. This would cause him to smile shyly or bury himself into mom’s side. I thought nothing more about it until later when we were seated near their table.

Upon settling into my seat, my attention once again was drawn to this family. I noticed that after ordering, mom pulled out a book and began to read quietly to herself. The child, seated across from her, would fidget and play with action figures. He would play for a while and then try to talk to Mom. However, Mom persisted in her reading. The child became more animated and began to make noises, which drew the attention of those sitting near them. The child then began kicking the seat and making other noises, but still Mom read on. Finally the child began kicking louder and louder with more force until he kicked Mom under the table. Mom let out a perturbed “ouch”, followed by a glare, and angry words spoken in an obvious over reaction to her son.

Following this outburst, the child then returned to his action figures and Mom continued to read. When the food arrived, the child continued to annoy Mom by playing with his food. He turned french fries into airplanes and nibbled on his burger, while mom shot him glares between the pages as she read her book.

What message was her child sending her? What needs did this child have that mom completely ignored? The obvious answer was that mom needed to put down her book, act interested in her child, and the resulting scene would have changed. While mom was annoyed by her son’s behavior, a lively discussion about eating or what they would be doing that day would have changed the entire experience.

Provide children positive eye contact, enthusiastic tone of voice, positive facial expression, lively healthy touch and you will reduce attention neediness in children. Give them what they need and discipline situations will diminish.

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