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Dr. Kirk: They're Learning From You-Pay Attention!


by Michael E. Kirk, PhD
Dr. Kirk is a local clinical psychologist, father and grandfather, who specializes in working with families, adolescents, and children.

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We all have children for whom we care. Each of these children comes with particular personality traits, quirks, attitudes, and abilities. And, although they are all so very different as individuals, some truths apply to all children. A child requires the attention of adults in order to be able to visualize who he is actually becoming. Our responses, reactions, attitudes, smiles, frowns, and overall general remarks deeply impact our children's developing lives and sense of self. As parents or caregivers, we are held responsible for the direction taken by our children. We are the blueprint makers of the children, genetically and emotionally. Our willingness to strive to be better parents or caregivers is our ultimate responsibility toward the success of the child. What does that mean exactly?

Discipline is so often confused with punishment. Discipline consists of how the parent disciplines himself to behave. Children will follow your example, just as they sometimes become teachers, firefighters, doctors, or laborers as their parents have done. Another word for discipline is role modeling. The parent is constantly role modeling for his child in his every day life. The child, viewing your behavior week/month/year after week/month/year, begins to develop an idea of how he can or should behave.

On the other hand, punishment is a harmful tool that people continue to employ completely unaware of the futility of doing so. Punishment does not provide the change in behavior that parents desire to achieve. For example, spanking is an age-old tactic parents continue to employ. It is enough to say that if this tactic actually worked, it would only need to be used one time! Research has shown time and time again that the more children are spanked, or treated roughly, the more they are likely to defy their parents. This leads to children displaying increased levels of aggression and anti-social behavior and, eventually, a myriad of mental health problems.

Since it is the child who developmentally benefits from parent-child interactions, it seems profoundly necessary that these interactions be pleasant. Research indicates that when parents are interacting with their baby or young child, and the parent followed the lead the child presented rather than the parent taking charge, the baby or child stayed on task with the interaction four times longer than children who had distracted (not being attentive to the child) caregivers. Additionally, babies or children with parents who made little effort to focus on what their child was playing with had even shorter attention spans than parents who were even briefly attentive to what the child was doing.

Therefore, if you are being attentive to what your child is doing, he will notice and see value in continuing. As he continues, he learns more about the activity, thus increasing his cognitive abilities. The child gets smarter and learns to develop attention skills. Attention problems, which may or may not begin in infancy, is a phenomena over which parents have tremendous influence. Parent-child interactions are an absolute necessity and should be carried out in a positive, patient, and loving way.

It appears that our children may actually grow up to be the way we create them, as it appears we have an amazing amount of influence over them. Perhaps, we should consider doing our very best and put the child first. Always recognizing the need for the child to have a positive and attentive environment, the child develops a strong and positive sense of self.

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Tags: Parenting, Tweens & Teens


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