Children love our attention, and many, especially when they’re very young, will do just about anything to get more of our attention… Right?!!! But what is underneath that obvious fact?
So, what’s underneath the obvious fact that kids love, even crave our attention? One very valid factor is that having someone’s attention (ideally a teacher’s or a parent’s) means being ‘seen’ by the people who matter most to them. Being ‘seen’ equates to a feeling of being valued … and being valued is one of the most important markers for kids’ healthy social-emotional learning and potential for development.
We all know – and have experienced – that some kids will sometimes engage in some kinds of behavior that make some of us want to do ANYTHING but give them our attention. But maybe, just maybe, those kids need a little help from us to get the kind of attention that they really want from us.
Any discussion about attention must include the quality of our attention.
By ‘quality of attention’ I’m specifically referring to undivided attention as compared to distracted or superficial attention.
What are all the ways attention can be distracted?
- other kids in our classroom
- our growling stomach because we haven’t eaten for 7 hours
- vacation plans
- reliving the morning’s argument at home before work even started
- texts coming in about an urgent situation
- … i’m sure you could add to this list by a factor of at least 10,000 …
… but what about if we could manage to tame all the distractions, and our attention could become complete /undivided …. what do we imagine the impact will be on children’s need to act inappropriately in order to get our attention? … what would the impact be on their sense of belonging ? … what would the impact be on their self-worth?
If the answer to that question doesn’t come to you straight away, can you reference your own childhood, and the quality of attention you received, to gain a reference point?
For uncountable reasons, our attention can’t always be pure and undivided … who doesn’t know that for a fact? … but moments (yes, just moments) – every day – can and do make a difference and have deeply nourishing effects … especially when those moments have nothing to do with situations that involve or require corrections which, as we all know, are the most common times our attention is undivided.
Let’s see if we can stretch our pure and undivided attention ‘windows’ – on purpose and with intention – to include neutral, happy and ideally constructive moments.
Deepening and nurturing the bond with our students, (as well as amongst and between all of our students) usually requires conscious intention.
One deep, conscious breath (Inhale and Exhale) can help us transition from distracted to present, then perhaps we can ask one kid, or a group of kids, the kinds of questions that gently and genuinely invite them to draw upon their most constructive intelligence. What areas of ‘expertise’ can we draw upon from our students? That ‘expertise’ element might seem like a bit of a stretch, but it’s a simple thing really – because even the youngest kids know LOTS about anything that’s personally relevant to them.
When I was a teacher I’d ask my students questions about challenges with which they were all familiar – but I’d ask them in ways that kept the focus of those discussions at arm’s length, in other words – the challenges we discussed were familiar enough to be relevant, but clearly NOT about them or anyone in the class … just familiar enough to get them relating to the challenge and engaging them with providing constructive solutions.
The main idea here is that an adult’s undivided attention, when combined with questions that draw upon kids’ ‘expertise,’ creates opportunities for them to build on their own constructive attention-getting efforts while developing their constructive ideas and thinking skills – and with follow-up questions – helps them to further organize their thoughts and gain confidence with their verbal skills – skills that cannot be overestimated as kids progress through school – but that’s another topic for another post. What we want to emphasize here are the many benefits for children’s healthy development when they receive our pure and undivided attention, because we’ve made it easier and better for BOTH them and for us by creating opportunities for them to constructively express who they are, in their own terms, with their own words.
A few more important elements about the most beneficial ways to give our attention:
- Our verbal responses aren’t always necessary. In fact, sometimes they’re a distraction, with their labelling, ‘boxing’ and ‘categorizing’ effects. Just being fully present is truly … entirely …. enough.
- Receiving undivided attention from teachers and parents does not imply or require agreement from us about what the child may be saying. The gift of undivided attention works differently – and much better, really – softening situations and creating openings for fresh perspectives… from all sides, ideally… but naturally, without being forced.
- And more thing: Feeling valued by virtue of regularly receiving genuine, undivided attention – even if only for brief moments each day – isn’t a far stretch to the feeling of being loved… whether or not we use the “L” word.
Would you like to here the podcast for this topic? Here’s the iTunes LINK.
Would you like to do more reading on this subject, and learn about the research that validates the importance for children of being seen? Warm thanks to Kindergarten teacher, Bill Hotter, for bringing my attention to that inspiring article on this subject which appeared on Edutopia’s website.