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You’ve probably heard it a hundred times.
“Oh, they just want attention.”
Sounds bad, right? As if the babies (or children) are being excessively annoying, rather selfish really, fussing and whining just to get your attention.
The truth is they’re not actually looking for attention.
They’re desperate for connection.
According to Karyn Van Der Zwet, author of All About Tantrums: Why We Have Them, How to Prevent Them, What to do When They Happen:
“… so-called attention-seeking is actually a child trying to communicate a need and feel connected. The need to feel connected is fundamental to our biology. Many of us have had times of feeling isolated and alone. In the past, to be alone would have meant death, or at least great danger.
Children are biologically driven to connect with the significant adults around them. Their survival depends on our understanding their needs—if they feel no sense of connection, they have no faith in us understanding and meeting their needs.” (source)
If your child doesn’t have faith in your ability to meet their needs, imagine how stressful (and scary) their days become. Biologically, they’re fearing for their lives, their very survival. Their stress hormones go up. Angst builds. Irritation builds. Frustration builds.
Once they connect with you, their faith is restored and they can return to calm once more. They’ll have to find a way to release all the stress they’ve already experienced, but the sooner you reconnect the less stress they’ll have to process and release.
Van Der Zwet goes on to point out:
“Unlike natural separations (which they choose), children feel a sense of disconnection every time we force a separation—when we choose to be on the computer or speak to someone else; when we go the bathroom or take a shower without them; or even just by being on the phone.” (source)
Ever wonder why your toddler can’t stand you going to the bathroom without them? Now you know why!
So how do you reconnect quickly and effectively with your little one? Use your eyes! Try this:
- Focus your eyes on theirs.
- Stretch your eye sockets as wide as you can, and
- Immediately afterwards, crinkle the muscles around your eyes to make them smile. (You might have to practice.)
- Then enter their world for a few minutes. Let them tell you something, show you something or give you a hug. Just concentrate all of your attention, even your thoughts, on them.
When you do this with babies, let them babble, kick their legs or wiggle around as you focus on them. If they’re tired they may look away after a moment, but they’ll do so with ease.
One final note:
“There are two key ways to tell if children are well-connected, and therefore less likely to show attention seeking behavior. First, by recognizing how excited they are when they greet their parents after daycare, kindergarten or school—the more excited, the better. And second, by checking how easily they make eye contact with their mothers. Calm, steady and expressive, and all is well.” (source)
Visit Pathways to Family Wellness to read Van Der Zwet’s article in its entirety.
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