At a party one time, I had my baby on my hip when suddenly my toddler erupted into some kind of unacceptable behavior at my feet. I handed the baby to someone else, and took the toddler outside to be dealt with. Afterward, one of my best friends approached me with some feedback. She told me that my toddler had been trying to get my attention for several minutes, while I was talking to friends and taking care of the baby. Finally, my toddler did what he did--and voila--attention. Our kids need our attention. Every day they need positive, proactive, nurturing attention that lets them know they are precious to us. Our kids need our attention.
And sometimes they act out, because we have spaced out.
We tend to space out when there's stress in the family--and the stress can be a good thing, a bad thing, or just part of life. For example, any kind of transition creates stress. New babies are born. School starts. Jobs are lost or changed. Moves happen. Adults in the household are in conflict. Or there's a separation or divorce. And that's when we parents get distracted from our usual routine of time and positive attention for the children--right when our kids need more attention than normal.
When our children know that they can count on us, they feel safe and better able to handle the stresses of life. If they're not really sure we're paying attention like we should, they can get really anxious and upset--and act out. So if you ever find yourself saying, "She's just doing that to get attention"--well, you're probably onto something there.
When parents bring their children to see me, usually the first thing I do is give family homework: have fun together for 30 minutes every day. The parents sometimes struggle with this a bit, but the kids think I am the bomb. Kids who can't remember a single assignment from school will never let their parents forget this homework. And I have seen parents make a huge difference when they make time to enjoy their kids on a daily basis.
Having fun sounds simple, but when you're having fun, you can't be stressed. We all know stress is bad, and there's a bunch of research out there about its adverse effects. So when we're having fun, we're giving our bodies and minds a break from something we know for sure is bad for us.
When you have fun with someone, you have happy feelings toward them in that moment--which is always valuable in a family. And in my experience, when I have had fun with somebody, I can be a lot more patient with them in the less-fun moments. It's easier for me to remember that I like this person, and I am less likely to melt down myself.
So if your kid is acting out, I'd say try having fun together for 30 minutes every day. And if your kid isn't acting out, go ahead and have fun for 30 minutes anyway. Just because it's fun, and fun is good for you. Let me know what happens!