Attention and your Child

My daughter and I were recently discussing children and the best way to discipline them. I have thought about this a lot since then and I would have to say as little as possible. Think about it from your point of view. When were you last disciplined and how did it make you feel? For some reason we as a society have slipped into a habit of disciplining children as a means of controlling their behaviour.

Now I’m not saying we don’t correct their behaviour but this needs to be the least often approach to changing undesirable behaviour. All behaviour is communication and when children behaviour in an undesirable way they are trying to tell you something -I’m tired, I’m bored, I’m hungry, I’m scared.

We have missed the cues leading up to the behaviour- the antecedent. The best thing you can do is to accentuate the good behaviour that you want to see, so that they are getting attention for that because quite frankly children are attention hounds.

Think of attention like hungry. When children are hungry they will eat anything in sight. Attention is a lot like that. They will try and get any attention on offer- be it positive or negative.

When your child behaves in a certain way and gets your attention, then they likely to behave that way again. When you give attention to the behaviour, you want to see it shows your child in that behaving in this way, they will get positive interest. This means you can use attention to encourage the behaviour you want to see. And the upside to this is the more you focus on their positive behaviour the more likely you are to see it and you begin to realise you have a really great kid! Of course that won’t work every time- usually when you are in public, but it works 90% of the time.

They will do anything to get your attention and all too often children are ignored. The thing that they crave most is your undivided attention- you need to be present with them when you are present. This means no phone! This is the biggest change I have noticed in parenting. You might be sitting on the couch with them but scrolling through your phone, so no attention towards the child. I’ve been to the local pools and the parents are sitting on the side scrolling through their phone. At appointments waiting –scrolling through their phone.

Of course you deserve time to yourself and you need to take it but when you are with your child make yourself available to them. They aren’t little for very long and there will come a day when you crave their attention but all they want to do is…… scroll through their phone or hang out with friends.


When you do need to discipline your child try these steps instead

Redirect- if you see your child is building up to something try and turn their attention elsewhere and distract them from the issue.

Re-correct: Remind them about the behaviour you want to see. Often we tell children off by saying what we don’t want them to do rather than what we do want them to do.

For example, we might say:

“Don’t stand on that chair” so could try “Chairs are for sitting”

“Quit yelling” try “” Quiet voices inside”

“Don’t hit your sister” “It hurts when you hit, use your words if you are frustrated”


Positive attention for behaviour means noticing and commenting when your child is being good.

There are lots of ways you can give this kind of attention:

  • Explicit praise – for example, “You are being kind when you share your toys”

  • encouragement – “nearly there- keep going”

  • physical affection or gestures – hugs, cuddles, smiles, thumbs up

  • active listening – for example, listening with interest when your child tells you something and repeat back or ask questions for clarification.

  • humour- this can be used to jolly them out of a bad mood

  • being playful- have fun with them and play at their level

  • And as always Model the behaviour you want to see

This kind of attention works best when you do it all the time, rather than occasionally. This helps for it to become a habit of looking for the positives in the way your child interacts with others. This way too, your child gets plenty of reminders of what kind of behaviour you like and want to see more of.



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