January 20, 2011

Thirty Second Burst of Attention

Children want and need attention and they will do anything to get it. Quite often they’re most in need of attention when you’re in the middle of something important.

Dr. Garry Landreth is known for his writing and work in promoting play therapy. He suggests that when a child needs your attention you stop what you're doing and give him a "Thirty Second Burst of Attention."

Let’s say you’re on the phone with your friend Brenda and your son approached you saying “Mom, Mom, Mom!” He’s tugging on your pants leg and jumping up and down. Your usual reaction is probably shaking your head at him while mouthing the words, “Not now! I’m busy! Go play!” What if instead you said, "Excuse me for thirty seconds, Brenda.” You put down the phone, got down on your son's level and said, "I have thirty seconds to listen. What do you need to tell me?" As he shares with you his enthusiasm over the dead bug he found, nod your head to communicate that you’re listening and that you care about what he is saying. At the end of thirty seconds you should say, "John, thanks for sharing that with me. Now I'm going to finish my conversation with Brenda."

Your child’s need for attention would have been satisfied in thirty seconds. Thirty seconds! That’s not too much of a hardship on your time is it?

When I suggest this technique to parents they usually ask me, “Are you just supposed to do one 30-second burst? What if they keep bugging you?” Gently tell them you need to finish what you were doing. Remind them that you listened to them, and when you are finished with your current task, you can spend time with them again. As a general rule of thumb, when you give a child undivided attention, even as little as thirty seconds, it will meet their immediate need for attention. Try it and let me know how it works for you.

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