Nothing makes us more anxious than parenting. We are constantly second-guessing ourselves, agonizing over every decision, action, word. We read books and attend classes looking for the magic answers, desperate to do what’s right.
It reached the point when my children were young and my husband and I had very little nights out to ourselves that I finally put my foot down. “I will not spend our rare time out together away from the children attending a class on parenting!!”
But because they are so precious to us, because they matter so much, we can’t avoid it. We end up reading another article, attending another workshop, calling friends and teachers for advice. It is all, of course, in the Almighty’s hands but there are a few principles that are universal. Here is just one of them:
Children desperately need and want our attention. We know that if they don’t get it the right way they will look for it the wrong way. We also know that we need to encourage and reinforce appropriate behaviors. Yet we frequently err in this regard. We ignore the child who is behaving well because we are busy reprimanding or in other ways dealing with the one who isn’t.
We often ignore the child who is behaving well because we're busy reprimanding the one who isn’t.
It is crucial to give our children attention for doing the right thing and not for doing the wrong thing. This is not just so they won’t seek our attention in negative ways, but also because sometimes the well-behaved child gets neglected because of the needs of the one who is misbehaving.
I’ll never forget a summer job I once had during college. One of my co-workers, another student, always came late. On the one day all summer when he came on time, the office was in an uproar. Everyone noticed and congratulated him. I got no honor for coming on time every day. This was not a serious trauma but it did teach me a lesson about parenting. If we focus on the child eating with his fingers instead of the one eating neatly, the child struggling to sit and do her homework over the star student, we may convey the wrong message. We may, God forbid, discourage the one child from behaving appropriately and encourage the other to continue their less than ideal actions.
It’s a balance but we have to be careful which way we tip the scales. We need to spend more time on the math homework of the child who struggles with the subject, yet we can’t forget to praise the efforts of the one who doesn’t. We can’t take for granted that they recognize their accomplishments and they certainly won’t know that we do unless we tell them.
All children, the driven and the complacent, the A-students and the C-s, the kind and the selfish, are desperately seeking our love and positive attention. Our job -- simple to state and difficult to enact -- is to give it to them.