"Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! WHAT!?" A scene that plays out often with children of all ages. People and children in particular, love attention. Children will do anything to get attention, and for them, it does not matter where the attention comes from. There is no difference between good attention and bad attention for a child. It’s all about attention. Sometimes, it gets old real fast for a parent. It is time to turn the tables on children and use attention as a good thing.
First, let’s look at ways of using attention to increase the behaviors a parent wants to see. A parent sees a child doing something good, like sharing toys. That's an excellent moment to use attention to help the child share more.
Telling the child what they have done and how it’s good helps the child both get the attention the child wants, and helps make sure the child will share again. Saying things like, "nice job sharing," or "that was really nice to do," helps.
When trying to encourage large changes in a child, take the time to use attention for the small changes. If the child is working towards improving grades and the child is studying one day, take the time to tell the child how good he/she is doing. Maybe even offer to help. The more attention a child receives for doing something good, the better off they will be and the more likely the child will be to continue.
The common misconception is that this means to not pay attention when a child is doing something wrong. That is not true. However, parents should limit the amount of attention a child receives for doing something wrong. For example, a child makes a mess in the kitchen.
One parent comes home, sees the mess, and argues with the child for 30 minutes about it. Then, the other parent comes home and argues for another 30 minutes about it. Now, the child has received an hour of attention. While parents might view it as yelling, the child is actually getting something the child wants, even if it ends in punishment.
Using this same situation and using attention in a different way, the first parent comes home and sees the mess. The parent tells the child that there is a mess in the kitchen and the child needs to clean it up. This is the point when most children will begin to react and say things like, "it wasn't me," or "I'm not going to clean it up." This is the child trying to draw the parent into an argument so the child can get the attention the child wants.
Parents need to continue to avoid this trap. Again, a parent can say that he/she saw the mess, knows the child did it, and that the child needs to clean it up. Do not get sucked into the argument though. If the parent needs to, leave the room. If the mess does not get cleaned up, then a punishment. But again, its not the time to spend lots of time with the child. State what the child did wrong, the reason that its wrong, and the punishment.
This will help parents use attention to guide good behaviors and help stop bad ones. When used together, it is a powerful resource.