Parents know they must play many roles for their children and teach them traits that will help them be successful. It's the many hats and responsibilities parents have (which must also be juggled with professional and adult lives) that makes giving children focused attention particularly difficult.
Of course, children don't compete for their parent's attention solely with the multitude of distractions their parents face; devices now wrestle just as much attention as to-do lists.
But therapist and clinical psychologist Adelia Moore recently wrote in The Atlantic that focused attention between a parent and child is critical for the healthy social and emotional development of children --it creates a sense of security that kids need to succeed. University of Toronto psychologist Geoff MacDonald told The Guardian that "Attention is one of the most valuable resources in existence for social animals."
Moore learned about giving focused attention from Fred Rogers.
Moore got the opportunity to learn, first hand, of Fred Rogers' (of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood) mastery at giving children the kind of focused attention they crave and need. Moore recounted her experience working directly with the children's TV icon when she was a young mother, one who enjoyed creating crafts and quilts for family and friends. Moore befriended one of the TV show's producers, who invited Moore onto the show given her crafting talent, as it would give Rogers fodder to react to.
Moore marveled at how Rogers toggled between making her feel like she was important and connecting with the children watching at home. Rogers looked at each of Moore's creations, naming them as he went for his audience: "dog", "horse", etc. At the same time, Moore felt what she described as a "warm glow from his attention" when Mr. Rogers told her he liked the things she made.
Rogers knew quite well what Moore now practices in therapy sessions she conducts, that attention is the core of human relationships, and that children benefit from their parents intentional attention not only when they're struggling, but in everyday moments, too.
The attention strengthens bonds and forces parents to focus more on what's happening between them and their child rather than focusing on work stress, that growing pile of laundry, or the cluttered garage. It's about establishing a pattern of responsiveness that builds up a sense of security for the child, enabling them to thrive and be successful.
Of course, if giving your child focused attention was easy, none of us would need Fred Rogers as inspiration to give more of it. With my wife and I having raised a daughter in the midst of launching a business and all that goes with being an entrepreneur, I can share three prompts to help you give your child more focused attention.
1. Hear the clock ticking.
I employ this tactic regularly now. As my daughter is all-too-fast approaching the age where she'll be leaving for college, every time she asks for help, to do something, or to have Dad connect with her in any way at all, I'm on it. In that instant where I realize I have to drop an article I'm writing or a keynote I'm preparing, I picture a sand-timer with its contents flowing all too smoothly. At that point it's not even a choice.
2. Revisit the purpose of parenthood.
My wife role-models, especially in the midst of navigating the 10,000 daily things that must be done, taking a moment to stop, breathe, and remember why we're here on this earth as parents. Our job is to help our children become the best version of themselves. How can you do that without being constantly tuned into where they're at and putting the effort in to connect and relate to them? Focused attention is the vessel by which parents are better able to navigate the child's journey to success. It provides a map to plot the course.
3. Prioritize quality over quantity.
I believe you can give your child too much attention. Sometimes you just have to let them figure out things on their own and learn how to be alone. It's more about being all-in when you're in. Look your children in the eye when connecting with them (setting the phone aside), empathize, find points of commonality or worthy points to discuss and debate, show genuine interest. In other words, set a goal of making the smaller doses of attention you give really count.
So pay attention to all of this and pay that attention forward to those who need it most --your children.