Give the Gift of Your Attention

Although I think Buddhism has a lot of good advice to offer parents, sometimes there is an idea that simply jumps out as speaking directly to those whose job it is to nurture children, such as this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh:

The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.

When we are interacting with our children, do we stop our hurried, multi-tasking activity and look them in the eye? Do we give them our undivided attention, listening carefully and responding thoughtfully? Have you noticed what happens when you do this, how the child lights up, tunes in, seems somehow relieved?

I think I manage this with a fair amount of frequency with my own children (although no one’s perfect, and I am daily guilty of glancing over, nodding and saying, “uh huh” just to let them know that I’m pretending to listen to this tenth identical announcement of what their imaginary friend likes to eat for dinner.)

But what I’ve noticed is really magic is when you do this with someone else’s child. The effect that it has not only on the child but on the relationship between that child and your child is astounding to me.

Some days, when my kids are playing with neighborhood kids, I might look out the window and see them playing too rough or doing something unkind, and I holler out the door, just to let everyone know I see them.

But other days I’ll go all the way outside and strike up a conversation, not even mentioning the undesirable behavior, but just some kind of engaging interaction where I let them tell me what they got for Christmas or their trip to grandma’s house or whatever. I stand there, really listening, with the same amount and quality of attention I’d give an adult friend.

When I leave to go back inside and the kids re-engage in their activity, they are energized, cooperative, and seem happier. They somehow magically find something that’s fun for BOTH of them instead of playing aggressor/victim in some fashion or other.

Not forever, of course. Conflict will reemerge at some point down the road, but there will be at least a good half hour, if not more.

Have you noticed any magical results of the gift of your attention, either with children or people of any age? In situations of conflict or any other circumstances?

8 responses to “Give the Gift of Your Attention

  1. Attention is truly a valuable gift, and it’s one I don’t remember to give as often as I would like. I love that even when it doesn’t have an immediately noticeable effect on the person I’m giving it to, it helps to increase my compassion for them. Thanks for this beautiful reminder to give of my attention more often πŸ™‚

    • I forgot the effect it has on me! That’s so true. Even though I am not the recipient of the attention, it still helps facilitate connection from my end. Thank for pointing that out!

  2. Lovely post and reminder on how valuable our full attention is. I make a concerted effort to give Jesse my full attention whenever he needs it and I definitely see the effect it has on his behaviour. It makes perfect sense that it would also touch another’s child, or anybody. We all love attention, dont we πŸ™‚

  3. Glad to have found your post. I am so aware of this with my child. We’ve always tried to give him deliberate attention and really listen to him, and so he expects it now. When I am busy and distracted, he lets me know by verbally (or otherwise) demanding my attention. I’m glad he’s the kind of kid that can snap me out of it, because it’s true, when we are interacting and respecting each other, the days really are magical. Thanks for your perspective. =)

  4. This is so very true! That connection through genuine attention is priceless. Very nice post. Parents often mention to me surprised that they see me kneel down to talk to their children or my own and ask questions about things they like… I have even been asked why I go to so much trouble, but it isnt’t really as you wrote its a way to show we care.

    • It makes me kind of sad for the person who thought you were going to “so much trouble” by giving a child the same courtesy of full attention that we give to adults.

      Thanks for your comments!

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