Daddy, Put The Phone Away: Children Want Our Attention

The Importance of Being Present

My wife and I have chosen to be hands-on when it comes to parenting our children. That means no daycare or paid help (at least for now). It’s tough, but also rewarding to adapt to our children’s needs, nap times, wants, and feeding times. We don’t take this privilege for granted.

As a dad mostly at home with my kids, it’s [very] hard to be present all the time. Entrepreneurs have their plates full or are always working. Leading people and teams remotely has its disadvantages: you will get a call anytime that needs your attention. Therefore, you either have your mobile ringer OFF or your AirPods in your ear (thank goodness these exist).

Finding the space to get work done with children requires self-discipline and creativity. We don’t want to cheat our spouses and children by stealing quality time away from them. Given these challenges, I get up at 3:00 am several times during the week for writing and gaining clarity and perspective. These are the moments to turn notes into coherent posts and articles.

In spite of these efforts, my oldest has come to utter the following sentence last week: “Daddy, put the phone away.”

The first time I laughed a little; that nervous and shocking laughter that makes you think, oh crap, this is not good.

Then it happened again, twice.

Ok, my daughter’s complaints have been filed. She has called me out more than once. I need to step up. She wants and needs my full attention, not just my physical presence.

Seeking parental attention is normal, healthy, and important. From a young age, children crave attention. Whether it’s through showing off their latest drawing, telling a silly joke, or engaging in conversation, children seek our attention and validation. And while it can be tempting to brush off their constant need for attention, it’s important to understand just how crucial it is for their development.

There is a horrible saying in our Puerto Rico that translates into something like this: when the hens and the roosters speak, the chicks must shut up and remain silent. This was a rule among parents when I was a child, and I hated it. I was eager to talk with grown-ups and adults but was not allowed to do so. Instead, I was instructed to be silent while elders spoke.

I don’t want to be that parent.

Attention is the currency of childhood. It is through attention that children learn about themselves and the world around them. In the book No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, Siegel and Bryson emphasize the importance of giving children your full attention when they are expressing their emotions. It communicates to the child that they are valued and worthy of their time and energy. The authors explain that “when parents help their children to feel truly seen, understood, and valued, kids are more likely to develop a strong sense of self-worth and self-esteem” (Siegel & Bryson, 2014, p. 29).

Attention plays a crucial role in children’s cognitive and emotional development. When we give our attention to a child, we are providing them with an opportunity to learn and grow.

Through conversation, play, and exploration, children develop important skills like language, problem-solving, and critical thinking. And when they feel supported and valued during these experiences, they are more likely to take risks, try new things, and push themselves further than they thought possible.

Attention provides children with a sense of safety and security. When a child knows that they have a trusted adult who is fully present and engaged with them, they feel more secure in their relationships and in their environment. This sense of safety is critical for developing self-confidence and resilience, as children learn to trust themselves and their abilities.

Of course, it’s not always easy to give our children the attention they crave.

In today’s busy world, we are constantly pulled in a million different directions, and it can be hard to find the time and energy to truly be present with our children. But even small moments of focused attention can make a big difference in reassuring our children that they are loved and capable of great things.

Whether it’s a few minutes of uninterrupted playtime, a shared meal, or a bedtime story, these moments help to strengthen the bonds between parent and child and provide children with the support they need to thrive.

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