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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”.
In this world, its not education that matters, nor people…its comfort with oneself.
One of the traits of giftedness is perfectionism. Thus, my daughter is never satisfied with her self. I tried to change the curriculum. I tried to change her habits. I tried to change myself. Nothing worked, and I would see daily spirals downward. What I saw that scared me most, was that I saw myself in her.
I used to blame my mom for the fact that she was never satisfied with what I did. I never impressed her. I used to blame my dad…his nonchalance meant that I could never impress him. The truth that I have come to know….quite recently…was that I was never satisfied with myself. I never performed to the top of my ability, and I knew it. I was afraid of reaching a limit…and so I never wanted to try…yet I was always disappointed with my efforts.
Now I see my little one throwing a temper tantrum about a letter A. It didn’t look good enough. I can’t tell her that she is good enough…because she could never hear it. What did I need? I needed to believe that I was good enough for myself. So, I needed to coach her to deal with her own big emotions…and still love herself.
For myself, I could make a paradigm shift. Yet, I some how had to coach that. Before I figure out how to do this, I need to explode my own personal limiting belief of not being good enough….not a good enough mom.
I am her ONLY mom.
Not only that, I was a gifted little girl
….and she has my genetics.
So I tell her: You are good enough. But that A isn’t good enough….not for you. You know you can do better, and you know how, right? Yes, thats right…by practice. Keep practicing, and that A will be better…and then it’ll be good enough for you to be happy with your own A. Because I needed pushing…I needed to know that even if my work was good enough for others…I may need to push a little more for it to be my best…for it to be good for me. I needed to keep going. To go past the storm of emotion that makes me want to stop….because it is in the going past it that I come to love myself. I am the ALL TIME best person to be her emotional coach. I’m chosen. I’m her mom.
So he won’t stop. He still screams and pounds the floor when he’s upset. What I was considering doing was logical. But it was Christian right? Spare the rod and spoil the child, right? It is my job as parent to act as the “Good Shepherd” and chasten my son.
Except that I never saw Jesus spanking anyone.
Furthermore, as a young child, when I was spanked, I remember feeling out of control. (Yes, I remember being 3. I remember being two. I know that this is not unusual in intelligent children) Not because I was spanked….but having this horrible rage that I didn’t know what to do with. Spanking didn’t seem to help it. It just fueled the fire until it died out. Moreover, as an older child (9, as compared to the above 3 year old rampage), I clearly remember being spanked and thinking simultaneously “What does this man think he will accomplish by spanking me. I am so angry that I don’t even feel it. Why doesn’t he talk to me? Does he think I’m stupid?”
Back to Jesus. I know, through factual research, that a good shepherd doesn’t hurt his sheep in order to bring them into line. But what does a shepherd to do? He is outfitted with a staff and a rod. We have all heard THE COMFORT of thy rod and thy staff (Psalm 23). The staff, as used by shepherds had the straight end to guide the sheep and to press gently against them, for them to know his immediate presences, and to direct them. The crook of the staff was to catch the sheep (you ever noticed or wondered upon how big that crook was) and pull them back if they were wayward. And the rod, the rod was to carefully aim at predators and would be persecutors. It was also occasionally used to startle a sheep back into the fold….not by a direct hit, but by a hit to its path. So what does a good shepherd do? John 10:11 says, and I paraphrase. The good shepherd gives his life for his sheep.
I would give my life for that crazy tantruming out of control son of mine. And he just MIGHT remember me spanking him when he needed my help. And he just MIGHT resent me for it.
So what am I to do? I use my staff of my matronly hand to touch my darling noisy sad boy. I know he is wayward simply because he is three..and at three he lives in his emotion. I sit by my crazy tantruming son, my face at his level…or I pick him up…bringing his face level. Still tantruming, I forgive his kicks…as I’m sure the good shepherd ignores the head butts of a stubborn male, or the sharp hooves of a imprecise adolescent. I use my rod against the naysayers…those who would wish that I spank my child in line. Occasionally I throw my verbal rod into the street using my voice to scream terror if my little boy wishes to run into a street. But mostly I use the crook of my arm to hug him, bringing him back into the fold….because once there, he knows me, I am his shepherd (John 10:14).
Rage is par for the the course with gifted children. Gifted children often have the mental ability to comprehend the inane, the insane, the beyond level…but their emotions are still rooted in their planetary age.
My eldest (tested gifted) child cries. She collapses into herself with a crying rage. When she was younger, she would break things, hit walls, stomp, slam doors. Now, she cries, apparently uncontrollably, while saying things like “what’s wrong with me, and God! Help Me!”.
My middle child (suspected gifted) also cries, and throws himself on the floor, kicking and screaming. Before he gets worked up, he will hold his stomach and cringe, like he’s in pain. He probably is in pain.
My youngest (musically gifted, vision impaired) throws himself at people. When he’s upset, he’s tantruming on you, pulling your hair, pulling on your clothes; whoever the target of his frustration might be.
I want to yell at them to stop. Convince them to talk to “use their words”. In the midst of this, I just want to walk away. People say that I should love these years, that I’ll miss them. I doubt that… I personally long for the teenage years. I long for the age when they don’t depend on me for comfort…they turn to their peers. They will challenge me, but I can talk to them. They won’t listen…but they might hear me…but most of all, they won’t be invading my space, I’ll be invading theirs. I can then search for connection…I can be a consistent friend, empathize with their need to fit in, challenge their value system, appeal to logic. In theory. But these little monsters in my house? They defy simple theory. They require love.
My daughter, age 6, can’t call her best friend when she’s upset. She can’t deal with self failure, criticism, and can’t understand why. She knows rules, but has no control over them. She loves her mother..her family, but loves herself more. Her mother can’t reason with that. Who am I? I am to be the hugger, when she and I both hate hugs. I am the voice of control when we are both free spirits. I long for her to stomp to her room, and slam the door. That I can deal with. Yet, it is much more important to remain connected so that when she is older, I’ll be allowed to open the door. So, I’ve learned to offer to read a story, to send her to another world where her feelings can spill over, and be lost in imagination. It helps me, and so it helps her.
My middle son, almost 4 knows…feels earnestly that I SHOULD LOVE HIM. Why can’t I love him the way he wants, only he knows. Praise is unheard, everything is unheard. He is in a rage that sound cannot penetrate. This rage is normal…so I have learned. Preschoolers are in their emotional center. I need to pick him up, hold him tight. Kiss him until he giggles. Then…because he is 3, we can talk. But, I need to leave now…for work, for school, for church….i don’t have time for hugs and giggles so we can talk….and he hears the unsaid….the untrue “You DON’T LOVE ME!”. So I’m a little late…so I can kiss to giggle to talk in the car. It makes me tired. But this too shall pass. He will be 6 one day, and then 16, and then I will want to be able to tell him not to smoke because I love him, and want him around.
But who can understand a 2 year old? Especially a two year old who can’t see 2 feet in front of him? So he brings the tantrum to me….because only then can he know that I “see” him. That I “see” his pain. That he is independent of me…and he needs me to know that he is upset. So I am the platform for his tantrum. And there is no conversation afterwards….just “that hurt mommy”, “mommy sad”, “mommy wants outside, okay? can we get shoes to go outside, in the car?”, “yes, J. can bring dadoo”. Sooo tired.
I’m allowed to be tired right? Mommies are allowed to be tired. And that is why we sleep, lest we tantrum too.
I am a control freak.
I have memories of being in a crib, looking through the slats crying. Thats not entirely true. I have created a memory, based on being told that against her own judgement, my mother left me to cry, sometimes hours at night, so that I could teach myself to sleep. Its the way the Brits had done it for year. It was part of child-training, and it created youngsters with a stiff upper lip — self control.
My true memory is of traveling on a plane. This was in the days before jetways. I was holding my mother’s hand on the stairs that were driven up to the plane. Something must have made the stairs move, because suddenly I was dreadfully frightened of being left. I let go of my mothers hand, and ran up the stairs towards the perceived safety of the plane. I remember being frightened. My fear was not of leaving my mother, it was of “being left”.
This feeling extended itself through many many instances in my life. I doubled up on math in high school, because I felt that I was “behind” my peers. I nagged my boyfriend (then husband) about his whereabouts constantly, fearing “being left”.
The result of the feeling was an extreme need to control my surroundings. As a teen, I needed to be “right” so badly, that i was constantly engaged in sometimes friendship damaging debates. I moved as far away from my mother as possible so that she couldn’t “control” my life. I was adamant about making enough money to “support my family” — when as a young wife, I could have leaned on my husband a bit.
This last point drove a wedge that could have ended badly. But I didn’t even know that this desire for control could hurt me. I didn’t know that there were any feelings behind it. I told myself that I was being independent, and that was good. But the truth is, by trying to control everything around me, I felt unbound and out of control when I COULDN’t control. I was living in fear. But this could change.
I learned to feel the fear, and accept it as a feeling. Other feelings came up. I was afraid of being misunderstood, of being thought of as needy. That being Needy was bad, and weak. These were all valid feelings….but they were feelings that could be let go.
Thank you “fear of being misunderstood”, you strengthened my communication skills. Thank you “fear of being thought of as needy”, you helped me become a productive member of society. Thank you “fear of being left behind”, that doubling up on math subjects probably got me to MIT. Thank you “fear of being left alone”, you helped me build a support network. Thank you, and goodbye. You limiting beliefs no longer serve me. I am understood. I am self-sufficient. I am on target, and I am surrounded by supportive people. I don’t need those beliefs anymore.
I am a control freak, but I no longer try to control what is outside, choosing instead to control what is inside.
I am no longer an ant on a log believing that I am controlling the log. The log is going down the rapids, and I am too small to control it. But I CAN control me. I can increase my grip, hold on tight, and enjoy the ride.
(If you need help in finding and conquering your limiting belief demons, click on HIRE ME, above)