October 4, 2006

Managing Attention

Posted in The Loving Tree at 10:15 am by joeychan

Many parents worry about how the environment, the media and peer during the teenage years can introduce “naughty” and “rebellious” behaviors to our next generation.  Little do we know that these undesirable behaviors are in fact the results of the mishandling of our attention to children in their early years.  The attention we receive when we were children have also greatly affected our habits not just in our teenage years, but also in adulthood.  How is it so?


The answer lies within the fact that many parents have overlooked how attention, especially that from adults, is simply the most effective reward in the eyes of children.  Attention also has major effects to the growth of two key elements of our subconscious: confidence and security.  The more attention you give a person, the stronger the confidence is.  This also explains why spoiling may cause the subject to be over self-confidence or, worst case, self-centered.  On the other hand, when a person is given consistent attention there is security, and on the contrary, a person receives inconsistent attention develops insecurity within.  So how exactly can we better manage the attention we give our children?


Without knowing, a lot of parents already use attention frequently as a technique to manage their children.  Here is one of the most common ways how we utilize attention with children: pay a significantly extra amount of attention on a good deed your child has done and, in time, your child is more than willing to make that behavior a habit to earn more praises and attention from you.  However, there are also many ways how attention can cause negative effects to children.  We have to be aware of how we handle them differently at the two stages of a childhood.


The first stage is when a child is 0-1 year old.  This is the time when babies instinctively cry to get what they want.  It is necessary that you attend to their cries when they are yearning for essential needs, e.g. food, milk, replacement of the nappy, removal of discomfort, etc.  But if you attend to their cries when they are in request of non-essential needs, e.g. a chopstick on a table, a paper from daddy’s folders, mummy’s perfume bottle, or ever your hair, you are introducing to babies the method of crying to deliver discontent and to achieve everything that they want.  This is what actually causes a child to be later stubborn or the Chinese sayings of “hard neck”, “nau gai” and “hard to teach”.  No children are born with these habits.  They are formed at this stage when we can properly utilize our attention to eliminate such development.


The second stage is when a child is 2-6 years of age.  This is the stage when children get up to explore, observe and be stimulated.  Our highest priority at all times should be given to putting across to children a clear set of rules as early as possible so that they can roam freely within the border.  If children are confused with what they can or cannot do, they will be spending time on finding and getting hold of the borders of the rules by challenging the bottomlines instead of having fun exploring and absorbing information.  This explains why children of the same age at this stage can act so differently: some children seem smarter and others react slower to their environment because the latter are lost in the rules adults set for them.  We can deliver our messages very clearly to children at this stage using our reaction, in other words, attention, if we keep an eye on avoiding the following very common mistakes:


The majority of parents misinterpret the concept of Parenting altogether and give excessive attention to their children whenever and whatever, believing this is love and care.  In very rare cases the children grow up with only the side-effect of being over self-confident or self-centered.  In most cases, not only are the parents abusing the use of attention rendering it of no use as an effective tool to influence children’s behavior, it is also helping children develop a habit of craving for attention at all times.  When they grow older and adults start withdrawing attention from them for other aspects, the children will subconsciously do anything that they can to get attention again, from silly gestures and talks to offending others and violating the rules.  What is worst is they take this habit along with them into their teenage years that forms their “naughty” and “rebellious” behaviors which bring them nothing but criticism.  They are constantly being criticized of being rebellious and naughty.  Sadly, the young minds are not strong enough to override their subconscious in order to control their behavior even though they try, not to mention being aware of the cause behind.  Good intentions of the parents end up being a low self-value in the children.  I supposed I do not need to go any further on the results of this scenario. 

If you pay closer attention, you can actually notice that a lot of the behaviors of the adults around us come from the root of getting attention- from  insignificant gestures or postures to physically or mentally victimizing oneself. The negative results of an extreme case of a subject craving for attention can go far beyond our imagination.


Another similar scenario is that we give too much attention to children’s  “funny” behavior.  Let’s say there is this boy who possesses an impressive cackle when he laughs.  He also twists his butt when he walks and he uses an over mature way when he talks or posts.  These elements may seem funny and cute to adults at first and they always give a great deal of talk, comments and laughter whenever the boy perform them.  Eventually, the child will stick to these silly and dramatic behaviors and develop a habit of performing them at the wrong times because this is the perfect way to get others attention.  Before the child realizes, the adults have grown tired of these tricks of the child and they even feel annoyed by them at times.  The boy gets seriously criticized and blamed on at occasions when the adults are having a bad day themselves.  He has no clue what the adults are getting mad at.  So, he sets off to explore on other silly tricks hoping to put a smile on the adults’ faces again.  Another cycle begins.  Therefore, sometimes when you notice that your children are doing something silly, we need to hold back the amount of attention we give them, or we should explain to them or even neglect them so that they do not pick up this inappropriate way of getting attention.


Other parents do not spoil their kids by giving them excessive attention but they tend to lose balance with the attention they give their children at this stage which creates another non-desirable side effect: they pay too much attention on their wrong doings and not enough attention on the right things that their children do.  This is common in a lot of families where the parents’ emotions get affected easily by external factors.  Daddy has had a bad day at work.  He expects a cozy and comfortable home awaiting him only to find messy toys lying around because his boy has not tidied up as daddy has always taught him to.  Daddy is much irritated and begins punishing and scolding his son.  But daddy has overlooked that the boy has finished his dinner quickly this evening and he can even finish all his assignments by himself.  By the time daddy realizes it, the child may already have sunken into fear.  On top of that, daddy finds himself unable to transit his angry tone into an encouraging attitude.  So he has decided to just ignore acknowledging the good deeds of his son for now and he will make it up later.  However, daddy will have forgotten his agenda in time and this whole scenario will happen over and over again under this rooftop.  By the time daddy finally stops to look back, his son has already given up being a good boy and focuses only on being “bad”, because he doesn’t find any motivation on being good at all.


Of course we should show our children whenever they have violated any rules to deliver them a clear concept of the rules.  Meanwhile, we should never forget to give attention to the right things they do.  This should be consistent so that the children know the rules clearly and will not be confused by the unforeseeable reactions of their parents.  We should never give in to children’s bad behaviors for some good deeds they have done.  More importantly, we should not over focus on their bad actions and neglect their good behaviors.  It takes time for each parent to strike a balance between the attention we give to children’s right and wrong doings but it is always the most important thing that we should stick to in order to guide children’s values onto the right track.


Raising a child with correct healthy values is as crucial as giving them a healthy physical body.  During this stage when they are 0-6 years of age, children have all their trust for their parents and their subconscious wide open to absorb information that will shape their behaviors and values.  We should be more aware with the attention we give to children than we have ever imagined.  Any expressions or words we deliver to our children that is not in a flat tone is either an encouragement or discouragement to the young minds.  Therefore, other than being financially and physically capable, parents should also be emotionally capable so they can carry out all of the above properly to their children.  This is an ultra-challenging task, yet a few years of intensive effort is bound to result in a positive outcome that can be benefited not just for a lifetime, but three lifetimes to come.


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