The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Health & Family

February 21, 2013

Sarah Coyne: Attentive parenting crucial for kids

JOPLIN, Mo. — My first-grader comes home from school with a hundred things to tell me about her day.

Getting her to talk isn't the hard part anymore; it's giving her a chance to speak that's becoming difficult. Younger siblings need attention as well as dinner and chores. There's a backpack full of teacher's notes and school bulletins to catch up on, and probably some bills and deadlines of my own that keep distracting me.

We are ships passing in the night, only it's happening in broad daylight, and the fickle winds keep pushing us in opposite directions.

In the crush of new friendships and homework and blooming personalities, it can be easy for parents to let one-on-one time take a back seat to all of the outside requirements of life. Especially if we already spend lots of time with our kids, we sometimes forget to make some of that time meaningful.

I once read that most American kids receive less than 10 minutes of dedicated parental interaction each day. Ten minutes seems like nothing to me -- the final dregs of what was an overflowing barrel -- but to think that in all of our comings and goings, we might miss even those bare-minimum moments makes me cringe.

I spend time telling my kids what to do next or watching them play. I spend in-between seconds snatching hugs or kisses. I spend eternities refereeing their arguments and eons telling them how they should behave. I make endless peanut butter sandwiches and slice hundreds of apples. I compliment artwork and kiss boo-boos.

I teach and clean and work and bustle about, and in all of that, do I ever just sit still with my little ones and let them have all of my attention, whether they have an immediate need or not?

It's too true that the squeaky wheel gets my grease; many of us pay the most attention to the things that are going wrong. We can't very well ignore the broken glass on the kitchen floor or the sobbing child at the foot of the staircase, after all.

But we can, perhaps, carve out moments -- after the glass is swept away and the sobbing child is consoled -- that are only about spending time with a child. Moments that include neither instructions nor demands.

We can lay aside the chores and the worries, and only let our kids have our full attention to play, follow their lead; to show them our imagination and our heart, our imperfections and our silliness.

If all we can manage of this is a dozen consecutive minutes per day, at least our kids will have the experience of being seen and loved. And they will know that they have been important enough to warrant attention that is not based on their behaviors or moods.

What we've tried to teach with lectures or chores will become less important than what they see in our presence. Physical proof of respect and acceptance can take the place of harping and refereeing. Siblings will know they are equally important and not just attended to based upon whose squeaky wheels are chirping the loudest.

And when my first-grader or my preschooler or my just-talking toddler comes to me with a hundred things to say, I won't have to lose a chance to connect.

They say time passes in the blink of an eye. The least I can do is take 10 minutes per day to blink a little bit more slowly.

Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog, http://thisheavenlylife. blogspot.com.

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