Seems like a simple question, but the answer can be complicated. We are all raised differently and experience varying levels of attention from our families. So let me lay it out this way:
All kids need the same amount of attention. All kids require a lot of attention. It just depends how much attention you have to give based on your priorities and/or responsibilities. I can already hear many of you saying, "Well, my kid has special needs and I have to tend to him all day long", or "My kid is a bit of a loner and doesn't really need that much attention from me." Let me re-emphasize that ALL kids need the same amount of attention.
Some kids get a disproportionate amount of attention and some kids don't get enough. Multiple child homes often give one kid more attention than another for various reasons, such as behavioral issues or medical needs. A middle child is often left out or looked over, sparking the term 'middle child syndrome'. Some even favor one child over another because they perform better and seem to show more passion and drive than the other. I am here to tell you that the amount of attention you pay your children, whether it is too much or not enough, directly affects their behavior.
What if our kids are asking for more attention than we can give? We are working parents, sports enthusiasts, music lovers, hobbyists, PTA moms, taxi drivers to our kids events, careerists and are involved in many other activities. It's so hard to balance our own lives with being a parent and making sure the needs of our children are met. Guess what! Our children see our distractions and spend much of their time trying to get our attention. If they don't get it, they will do whatever it takes to make us take notice, even if it means doing something awful.
So how much is enough attention? You'll know by the way your child behaves in general. If you have a child that throws tantrums, hits a sibling, destroys things, screams or yells, then they may not be getting enough. If they have an attitude, become quiet and withdrawn, act spoiled and demanding, or are narcissistic, they are likely getting too much attention. Here are some examples of parent types. Maybe you can relate to one or more of them:
The Unengaged Parent - this parent is usually busy with work, keeping things tidy, doing extracurricular activities, spending time on electronic devices (i.e. TV, phones, gaming systems) and don't have much eye contact or conversation with their kids during the day.
The Tiger Mom or Tiger Parents - there is a name for a mother (typically in the Asian community) that refers to a parent who is solely driven by success for their children. From a very young age the kids are put into music lessons, early education classes. They watch no television, have no social activities and expectations are extremely high that the child becomes a success at school and in future business. There is a lot of discipline involved and the parents are overly involved in their child's life.
The Over-Compensating Parent - these parents are often victims of neglect or hardship and want better for their children than what they had. They are often spoiling their kids with lots of toys because they never had any. Or they don't discipline their kids at all because they themselves were abused. Because of this, the children are often victims of a different type of neglect. No structure or rules leave them trying to push boundaries as far as they will go until the law steps in.
These are just a few of the different styles of parenting out there. Maybe you relate to them or maybe you have a pretty level form of parenting with happy children. I suspect the latter may be less likely since you are reading this blog. But even if you do relate to the above examples, it's not too late to change it. Your kids will spend the rest of their lives trying to get attention from you and the people that are closest to them. Even if they don't respect you or have become estranged from you or seem like they don't care, they do everything they do to get praise from you. When your child comes home from school with a B instead of a C on their report card, don't lecture them on how they should have gotten an A (Tiger Moms), or glance up from your computer and say, "That's nice, Dear", and then go back to what you were doing (Unengaged Parent). Your child is so excited about their achievement and they just want to hear that you are proud of them and receive congratulations. When they see the attention they get from doing better, they will continue to strive even harder. No matter how simple the activity or issue is, laugh with your child, cry with your child, get excited with your child. That is how they learn confidence in you and in others. If you don't show them attention, they will look for it somewhere else. If you show too much negative attention, they will shy away from speaking to you at all for fear of disappointing you. If you keep giving them the things they want all the time instead of allowing them the privilege of earning it, they will take advantage of you and others.
Fathers, show your daughters how a man should treat a woman so that they look for the right men later on in life. Be an example in how you treat your wife. Girls often marry men like their fathers.
Mothers, show your sons how to wash clothes, cook, clean and be a man of integrity. Your future daughter-in-law will thank you profusely!
Spend at least 15-30 minutes in the morning, and afternoon doing nothing but playing on the floor with your kids. Don't answer the phone or have the TV on or get distracted with household chores. Give them undivided attention and you will notice a dramatic difference in their behavior. If you're a mother of boys, don't be afraid to wrestle with them on the floor and make forts out of blankets and build tracks for their cars. And if you are a mother of girls, have a tea party with them, play barbies and do dress ups, and let them finger paint or cook with you. When we play with our kids they feel important to you and they feel loved and respected. They are less likely to demand constant attention all day long if they get a solid block of time with you. If, once that time is up, they demand more, then tell them that you will play with them once you have finished what you are working on.
They also need to learn to respect your time, too. This also allows them to learn to play on their own. Maybe you could give them a challenge or a project to do. If they know you will be proud of their efforts, they will gladly do it. If you have multiple kids, allot times during the day to spend with each of them so that they get your sole attention and aren't sharing it with a sibling. Have one-on-one dates with your kids. These are priceless memories that your children will never forget. And don't forget to make time for your spouse. They are often neglected and need your attention, too. There are only so many hours in a day and so many days in a week. You can certainly find 30 minutes or an hour in your 24 hour day to spend with your kids, and you can find a couple of hours a week to spend with your spouse.
You can do it! I believe in you! Try these things and let me know if you notice any changes in your kids. And please give feedback on this as everyone's experiences vary so drastically.
by Kristee Mays