Giving Children the Attention They Want and Need

How many of these scenarios are familiar to you?

  • A child creates something, and a teacher or parent rattles off a quick “Good job!” without really acknowledging the child’s work.
  • The children in a family have so many activities, many of which are scheduled during the dinner hour, that the family rarely, if ever, sits down to eat with each other.
  • Children at home or in an early childhood setting are staring at screens rather than being engaged in active learning.
  • Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are being taught to read instead of being read to.

These situations are the result of false beliefs running rampant throughout our society. The first is the result of the belief that we have to give children “positive reinforcement” to boost their self-esteem. The second comes from the twin beliefs that downtime is wasted time, and that if children don’t participate in as many organized activities as possible, they’ll fall behind and won’t succeed in life. The third stems from the beliefs that technology offers today’s children the best learning opportunities, and that children must become acquainted with technology as early as possible, since it’s going to be a part of their lives. And the last relates to the ubiquitous idea that the earlier children acquire skills like reading, the smarter and more successful they’ll be.

Sadly, these are just a few of the myths impacting the lives of young children these days.

But I contend that, no matter the era we’re living in, it doesn’t have to be so complicated! If we just held one belief in our hearts – that what children really want is the loving attention of the important adults in their lives – parenting and early childhood education would be a lot simpler, and everybody (especially the children) would be a lot happier.

And what constitutes loving attention? Again, it doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s not a matter of smothering children with praise. Loving attention doesn’t involve hovering over children while they do worksheets or sit at computers. It doesn’t mean drilling them on letters and words. And it certainly doesn’t mean driving them all over creation, rushing to get from one event to another. It simply means focusing on them, whether you’re talking to them, listening to them, or singing or reading to them. What could make a child feel more loved than getting your undivided attention? What better way to help a child thrive?

When I was growing up, my father was ill, so my mom worked outside of the home, even though it was unusual in those days, . Honestly, I don’t remember a heck of a lot about our time together as a family. Because my father was in and out of hospitals and physically unable to take part in a lot of activities, my family spent less time with all of us together than did my friends’ families. But I absolutely remember that we had dinner together most nights – and that I used the occasion to pass on every detail about my day! I felt listened to, and that mattered a lot.

The issue of children being listened to hit home for me when I watched Diane Sawyer’s special on screen time last month. One little boy was talking to his mom while she looked at her phone. And when he took her face in his hands and asked her to listen to him with her “whole face,” my heart could hardly stand it. All he wanted was her undivided attention. And, really, it was simple enough for her to give it to him.

Yes, it may be more challenging to provide undivided attention in an early childhood setting, where there’s a room full of children. Still, when a teacher takes a moment to get down at the child’s level while talking or listening to him or her, the child feels heard. When a teacher is reading to the children and making eye contact with each and every one of them, the children feel as though they matter. When an adult stops to talk to the children about their work (which, as I’ve written in a previous post, is the true definition of positive reinforcement), the children feel significant in a way that false praise could never make them feel.

A couple of weeks ago, the video below was making the rounds on Facebook. I suspect the reason it went viral is because it’s just so cute. But what a lucky baby this is! Not only is he learning a great deal about quality communication; also, getting so much of his Dad’s attention is certain to make him feel pretty darn special.


  • Amber Ogle says:

    Thank you for this! As an internal coach in a preschool, the most difficult concept for teachers is to move from praise to positive descriptive feedback. I would love to share this article with them to help build understanding!

    • Rae says:

      Amber, you’re more than welcome to make copies of the article to share. I just ask that a credit, with my website url, is included! Thanks for all you do for children!

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