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A normal attention span is 2 to 5 minutes per year of a child’s age. This is the standard used to determine Attention Deficit Disorder. (Note: A child’s attention span while watching TV or playing video games is not an accurate measure of his or her attention span, as these systems have reward based mechanisms that keep a child going and going and going, while in actuality reducing their “natural” attention span.)
Another fun fact: interrupting a child when they are having fun makes them continue to think the activity is fun. Plan this into your daily routine, if you are a homeschooler or if you monitor your child’s homework. For example, I know that my daughter’s attention span is on the longer end. At 7 years old, she can hold attention for at least 35 minutes. Therefore, no educational activity or lesson (including the practice) lasts longer than 30 minutes, and needs to be kept light and engaging for the full 30 minute. If I waver, or sense impending disinterest, I stop. That way we always stop while we are ahead.
On the other hand, my son’s attention span is closer to 20 minutes, for things he likes to do…but I stop after 10 minutes, just in case I missed his cue for “fun”.
A note on punishments….if you ground a child…, they have likely forgotten or lost interest in the reason why they are grounded after they have been grounded longer than their attention span, however their BODY remembers the emotions behind it. Their anger, yours, etc. Is this the end that you had in mind?
Comment if you were grounded when you were little, and what you did during the time you were grounded.
Most kids worship their parents. Not as in a parents are God sense, but in that delightful kind of cartoon hero-worship. Its easy to forget that when kids reach the tweens and pre-teens.
…or when they are potty training.
When I was potty training Yeah!, I was exasperated that despite the fact that she KNEW what to do…she didn’t do it. My aunt said “She’s not doing it to make you mad. She loves you. She thinks you are wonderful. She doesn’t want to disappoint you”. She raised the most loving sensitive son that I have ever met, despite the fact that I remember how frustrated that she was when she was potty training. (Which, is why I was so affected by her advice). That perspective may have saved my daughter’s life….figuratively.
One client of mine had a daughter that she was struggling with. Everything was a battle. But they came to me about school work, specifically reading. When we worked together she was a joyful little girl. When her mom came, she was full of angst. What came out is that she was being scolded for her performance, despite the fact that she was honestly working as hard as she could with the tools she had. I had complete empathy for the situation. I gave the advice of my aunt: “She’s not doing it to make you mad. She loves you. She thinks you are wonderful. She doesn’t want to disappoint you.” Then I added, “She feels that you are so wonderful, that she could never be like you. She’s afraid that you think she’s dumb.” While I worked on increasing the tools she had at her disposal, her mom worked at being her partner: offering books on tape as a stop gap until her reading skills caught up with her intelligence.
Think about your favorite hero. Mine was Ender Wiggins from Ender’s Game. (I know…I’m a nerd) I wanted to be like him….or at least be his friend. And if Ender Wiggins thought that I was stupid, or mean — or horror of horrors — disappointed in me, I would just about fall apart. Of course, he’s just a character in a book. If he was here on earth, like my DAD…well that would be paramount to saying that I’m not worthy to be alive. So this sweet little tween felt her mother didn’t think she was worthy to be alive. Mom quickly adjusted, and worked out parent-child contracts about her behavior, and became her big fan regarding her school work. This was paramount to having your hero come down from his or her pedestal to say that you were their best friend. The change was fundamental, and led to increased success in school and better relationship with her mom.
So consider using your child’s worship of you to turn around and pat them on the back. Be the superhero that says that you are there to be their defender in times of need. And step into the shadows when they become a teen and *may* not want you to show up at school.
Children often obey us simply because they are little, and we are giants, and they are smart enough to figure out that they will not win. As in this case….
Hitting Below the Belt
She had kneed her brother in the you-know-where…again… and I was so exasperated that I became the angry Giant.
“YOU DO NOT HIT YOUR BROTHER. Do you understand me?” Giving the AngryMamaGiant eyes of fire and the manufactured DEEP VOICE OF AUTHORITY, I said,
“Every time you hit your brother, I will hit you TWICE as hard AND you WILL not go with me to Starbucks on Sunday”
On Sundays I have taken to taking her with me on appointments, and the then we bond a little, talking, about her recent assignments or any other trouble while we have coffee. It was a time to reconnect, and a time away from her younger brothers…
So during that time of AngryMamaGiant I had forgotten all that. I was probably frustrated that the baby had been on me the whole day, and with my own introverted tendencies this attachment wears on me. Maybe it was because I identify with Missile and his own antagonistic tendencies. Maybe it was because he was a little boy, and being hit in his manhood is something Yeah! Could never understand. Either way, my reaction was gutteral, instant, and completely not thought out. It’s something I read or heard some parent do…I was reacting out of some past experience…some limiting belief…It was as Yeah said…distinctly not ME (or at least, not what I had become). I should have reached for a book, a magazine, and read a little bit. Calmed myself down. But in the course of change, sometimes old patterns rear their ugly head. But I didn’t. I scolded and threatened.
Then I promptly forgot about it.
Until today. Today Yeah! Was sunken and mad at the world. Stomping around, giving eyes of fire. We all wondered what could be wrong? Even Dad. She walked around with a bathrobe and a skirt, saying, “I don’t need to get ready anyway…I’m not going anywhere”. We told her to put on a shirt, and she put it on backwards, repeating “I don’t need to get ready anyway…I’m not going anywhere”. We ignore it.
Then as I’m getting ready, aren’t you coming to Starbucks with me?
“Because you said so…this week. Because I hit my brother”
Oh! But she was being honest about it. I wanted to reward her.
Rewards do not work
I asked her if she thought she should go. She told me that if she finished putting away all her clothes, finishes her schoolwork, and gets ready for the day by the time I get back, she should go. I asked dad, and he asked a great a great question.
“Do you think you learned your lesson?”
“What was it?”
“That I shouldn’t hit my brother, or the punishment will be bad”
Oh no! Parenting FAIL! No sweetie. Thats not why. What else?
“Because you’ll hit me harder?”
Ok. No that’s not it. You can come with me if you write down why it’s not a good idea not hit your brother.
“But I don’t KNOW why I shouldn’t hit my brother”
Blind Obedience vs Thoughtful Love
And this my dear friends is the point. If the reason that they stop a behavior is because they are afraid of their (insert source of authority here), then they are progressing towards being an obedient servant….not a loving adult. With lightening quick mindset transformation… I realized that her so-called-punishment was not only not going to achieve anything, but was also going to self-destruct my week.
Our Starbucks date was not a reward. It was not associated with doing things. It was a connection. Because I had so easily taken it away, I inadvertently made Yeah! believe that she had to do things to “earn” time with mom. Not having this time with mom would have put a damper on my deep need to connect with my oldest daughter. I was punishing myself by taking away one of the few opportunities I had to do so. All parenting has its imperfections.
So she did come to Starbucks. And she was my daughter again. And we talked about why she thought hitting was bad, and she explained that when she wants them to “stop” she doesn’t know what to do (because we DON’T tattle in our house)…and I became her partner…asking her to come to me to help me help her talking to them. I apologized. I had made a mistake. We role played. We worked on not only her anxiety, but our relationship. We just hung out. And if play is defined by losing track of time doing something we enjoy, we “played”.