Do you ever feel annoyed by your kids? You're trying to get something done - cooking dinner, cleaning up, finishing some emails - and they just won't stop bugging you! You know they're perfectly fine but in one way or another they won't stop shouting for your attention.
Perhaps you try brushing them off. "Just give me 5 more minutes!" or "Go play with your toys!" But they won't stop. They are practically demanding your full attention and you don't want to give in. Maybe what you're doing feels urgent or you don't want to reward their annoying behavior with a response.
A friend of mine had this experience with her one-year-old recently. Every time she was trying to cook dinner, he would try to get between her and the stove and push her away, whining to get her attention. Her first response was to tell him to just stop, to go play and try to keep cooking but it never seemed to work and the struggle continued.
Finally, she decided to pick him up. She talked to him and showed him what she was cooking, held him for a moment or two and then he was ready to get down and let her continue cooking. As she shared this with me she commented, "He just wanted to be included."
Dad had a similar experience with him as well. While working in the garden, their son began fussing, clamoring for dad's attention, getting into things he shouldn't. Finally dad picked him up and just carried him around while he continued what he was doing in the garden. After a couple minutes the boy got bored and moved on, content to play nearby. He just needed that moment of reconnection.
Next time you're feeling annoyed and your child is trying to get your attention, try giving it to them! Stop what you're doing and give them your full, undivided attention for even 10 seconds. Genuinely see them or acknowledge them, in some small way - with a look, a gesture, a deep breath, a few words. Then, if needed, give them a redirection or some information like you tried before but this time from a calmer place, from a place of connection. "Why don't you get out your blocks? I'll be done in 5 more minutes."
If this behavior persists, you may need to reflect on how much time and energy you’re able to give to them overall. However, as one parent noticed recently, “It’s not the quantity of connection but the quality.” Even a moment, a single breath, where you can fully pause and see your child and acknowledge their presence will go a long way.
We all have an innate need for a sense of connection and belonging. Why should children be any different? In fact if anything children are more upfront about trying to get this need met and will seek attention and connection in any way they know how. Many times children misbehave because they get so much more energy and attention from us (even if it's negative) than when they're behaving! Even a negative response seems better than not feeling seen or heard.
I saw a family at a local park recently - two sisters playing and a mom on her phone way on the other side of the park. Within minutes the little sister was screaming about not getting a turn. The mom begrudgingly got involved, reprimanding the older sister for not giving her a turn and the younger one for shouting. It seemed like a familiar script that had played out many times. For the girls this was probably the best way they knew how to get mom’s attention and feel a sense of connection with her.
So, if you’re noticing yourself feeling annoyed and your children begging for your attention, experiment with finding small, positive ways to give them your energy and attention throughout the day. It's not just the weekends or afternoons when maybe we set aside time for a special activity, though those times are important too. Throughout each day children need touch points of connection to help them to feel calm and stay well-regulated. Here are a few simple ideas for how you might create moments of connection:
Talk to them, ask questions and also