How often have you muttered this statement or overheard others exclaim it scornfully. It’s a common catchcry used when we see or experience behaviour in children that pushes our buttons, embarrasses us, or creates a sense of discomfort.

What kind of sentiment tends to underscore this exclamation? Compassion, understanding and empathy? Or frustration, contempt and judgement?

What is the child struggling to express by displaying this less-than-desired bid to be noticed?

You see, we’re probably right when we conclude a child is behaving for attention. We all need it.  Sometimes, though, when kids struggle to garner the attention they desire, they resort to inappropriate methods. During these times, rather than punishing the child, it may serve us better to take their behaviour as a timely reminder. Our child seeks our attention and as parents, we may need to consider tweaking our own behaviour and time management to ensure we proactively deliver it. Ensuring our child receives this attention is crucial in order to preventatively fill our child’s emotional well – before it runs dry.

At the Family Peace Foundation, we advocate the importance of spending one-on-one time with each child in a mindful way for at least 8 minutes each day. Practicing this behaviour requires an intentional choice to strengthen the muscle of being present.

Multitasking and juggling competing demands can leave our heads spinning and our children feeling dismissed and unimportant. Spending purposeful and enjoyable time together daily is a vital ingredient in giving our children the attention they need and deserve to help them feel safe, secure, and valued as individuals and members of the family unit.

Allocating time together and strengthening the ‘present-muscle’ means making the time to initiate shared moments. Such windows, albeit for even brief periods, are key building blocks. They help create a healthy, robust connection and sense of self when inevitable emotional, psychological, or relational hurdles fall across our child’s path during their lifespan.

Of course, as parents, many of us feel overwhelmed and time poor. Many of us perceive that opening the door to spending time with our kids will somehow absorb all of us into a permanent vortex with a one-way door. We feel we’ll never be let out or released to continue with other tasks that we either deeply desire ourselves, or that we simply have to do to keep the domestic and professional cogs turning.

We imagine that starting a game of Monopoly will mean dinner will never get cooked, or that going for a walk will result in us never getting out the door to work. Or perhaps we think that braiding our daughter’s hair will mean dirty washing will stay dirty, or that reading together at bedtime will significantly reduce the total number of hours of precious sleep we so desperately need.

However, when we spend mindful, purposeful, and meaningful time together, for even brief spurts, we learn to observe and understand that our kids will not extract us into a voracious whirlpool of neediness that we can’t cope with. Rather, that their need for attention will be appropriately drip fed and satisfied. It will allow them to bloom and grow, regardless of the unexpected challenges that present themselves, or during the times that we become distracted or temporarily unavailable.

So when your child is nagging to play a game, pulling at your jeans to pick them up for a cuddle, or asking you for help with their homework, rest assured that time spent responding to their request is a gift. It may well be an invitation to spend precious time together.

In the blink of an eye, some of us will be aging parents, asking for time and attention from our adult kids. We will be super grateful when they reciprocate by choosing to spend 8 minutes or more with us!