I do not know how many times have I heard a teacher or parent say: "Oh, she/he is just doing it for attention." Indeed, it is way too many times to count on all my fingers and toes of both hands and feet. And, I am sure that if I have not actually used that expression myself, I have certainly thought it – about others, and about myself. And, it is not usually in a positive way.
From the very earliest years, we silence children, trivialize and humiliate them. We scold them for wanting our attention, and shush them at every chance we get. We think that good children are silent, who do not take up too much of our time, energy … or … attention.
Children need our attention to survive – to feel loved and worthwhile. They would die without our attention – some do. They want to know what we think about them. They desire our validation, acknowledgement and support. And when they do not receive it, they compensate in all kinds of ways: repressing their needs and wants, shouting and becoming aggressive or violent, going underground and harboring resentment alone, or seeking it from anyone who will give it to them. Children feel invisible when they are unnoticed.
Don't we all want attention? Don't we all want to have our feelings, ideas, and self expression validated, acknowledged, supported, or related to in some way? I think about blogging, Twitter, or Facebook. We love the attention! Posting our thoughts, photographs, birthday dates just so that others out there in the Universe will see, hear, and respond to us – immediately, if not sooner. I often find myself thinking or even saying out loud to myself – "Am I just doing this [whatever it is] for attention?" I feel shame when I seek it, and I constantly hear people judging others for being attention-getter's.
We all were children once, and, as adults, probably carry within us different ways of dealing with repressing our need for attention. Half the battle to understanding this very basic need, would be to acknowledge it as important in the first place, and then give ourselves permission for desiring it. It might be helpful to try and remember what we did as children to gain attention, be noticed, and feel important to the significant people in our young lives.
I think I tried to gain attention by serving others and putting my needs last. And then, if I was noticed for my "goodness," I felt worthwhile. I have dragged that style with me right up until now! The trouble with this method is that I have to serve and sacrifice for a long time before I am noticed for my "goodness." By then, I am exhausted, frustrated, angry and resentful, and after briefly feeling worthwhile, I lash out much to the amazement of everyone around. Then I feel ashamed and guilty for my outburst, and immediately return to serving and sacrificing. A full cycle of attention-getting behavior that might have helped me survive as a child, but is quite unproductive or, even, destructive for me now.
So, let's go into this New Year more aware of our own emotional development … and give support, validation, acknowledgement, and loads of loving attention to all those youngest children out there – starting from the day they are born. Let's relate intelligently to what they say and do, and help them feel worthwhile and accepted through meaningful and authentic relationships.
A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Focus
Recently I received an email as a comment on this piece from one of my blog readers. Of course, I was deeply moved by this reader's kind words to me, but more than that I very much appreciated the sharing of a personal story.
I was given permission to post it here:
… today I had to write to you. And It couldn't be a simple post or comment. Today you struck a nerve with your post about children wanting attention. You pulled something from deep in my soul and I felt I had to write to you to tell you this.
I am a mother of six children. At this point half of them are nearly grown. But I also grew up in a large family and so many things I experienced as a child have stayed with me in much the same way I see that you have retained your childhood impressions. One thing in particular made an impression on me. The lack of attention from my parents. My parents, and many of their generation, did not pay attention to children. It was considered a weakness I think. I remember many nights being afraid of the dark or other nightly terrors that only can be conjured up by a 4-year old imagination. I would tiptoe to my parent's room. Their room was locked carefully each night to keep us out. I would curl up on the cold, hardwood floor outside their room and listen hopefully to their murmurs or the soft sound of their slumbered breathing. But I would be cold and scared still, curled in a tight ball outside their door on the floor. When I finally grew too cold I'd creep back to my bed to slowly allow exhaustion to come and then…. sleep.
Today I have had all my children in bed from birth. Many frown on this I know. But the crowning glory is when I hear my now 21 year old daughter say that she wishes she could crawl in bed with me at night during a hard time in college. Or when I wake up and see my now 19 year old daughter standing at the side of my bed, ready to snuggle after a bad dream. Can this be real? This is the stuff of better dreams. This is what parenting can be if we attend to the needs of our children at a young age. They will still seek us out as adults, secure in the knowledge that love can be attainable and that the mutual attention we give to each other is a blessing and not a curse.
You really get kids. You really get adults. Don't you? If you don't know this… let me tell you…. you do.
I wish you had been my parent growing up. I know the lessons I have learned have been hard earned on the heels of my parent's upbringing. I should probably say I wouldn't trade it for the world. But the truth is I had a cold and scary upbringing. I wish you'd been my mother. I bet I'd be sharing tea with you now. You're a good person Tamar. I'm glad to know you through your blog. Blessings in this new year! Thanks for letting me write to you!