“I’m totally stressed out!” Dean told me. “My family is always going somewhere or doing something. I never get any downtime!”
Dean’s family life
Dean’s mom and dad weren’t bad parents. They were just highly motivated people who were actively involved in work, church, community and all their sons’ activities. And Dean’s four brothers seemed happy with this fast-paced lifestyle. Apparently no one had been aware of how different Dean’s personality was from the rest of the family members’ personalities. Surprisingly, they were not paying the right kinds of attention to Dean.
“Try slowing the pace for a while,” I advised the parents. “Spend time just being together.” They did, and the result was a big improvement in Dean’s mental and physical health and in his relationship with the family.
A wake-up call
Sometimes good parents — caring, loving parents — can overlook a child’s needs because their attention is pulled in too many directions. Dean’s parents had a wake-up call that helped them reconsider their son’s unique temperament and take steps to renew the relationship.
I wonder how many of us need our own wake-up call. How can we pay the right kinds of attention to our children?
Often the verse Proverbs 22:6 is quoted when raising children. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
We like to think of this as a formula. We think all we need to do is A-G.. Yet, the Amplified version of that verse reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go [and in keeping with his individual gift or bent]…” This adds a nuance of learning who your child was created by God to be.
It is not trying to fit them into a certain mold, rather more like unwrapping a gift to discover what is inside.
The right kinds of attention starts small
Relationships with our kids don’t happen automatically. Life is busy, and we sometimes default to reactionary parenting — only becoming keenly aware of our kids’ needs when some problem surfaces.
The first and perhaps most important step toward becoming better, more intentional parents is to simply pay more attention to our kids, to start becoming aware of the unique ways they are created. Put aside the to-do list, the extra office work and the electronics. Be very intentional with your children to understand the right ways to connect with them.
Getting to know your children involves consciously taking some practical steps to know the right kinds of attention they need.
Discover their love language
Dr. Chapman says that “Children receive love emotionally, but because they are all different, we must pay attention to their individual needs. We must learn to speak our children’s [love] language if we want them to feel loved.”
For fun, try practicing all of them and see which ones your child responds to more. Remember we often express love out of our own language preference. We have to stretch ourselves to express the others.
Extrovert or introvert or somewhere in between?
Knowing when your child needs “their” space can be critical in understanding how they respond emotionally to certain situations. It’s also important to know what kinds of environment your child feels most comfortable in. Whether it’s when they are surrounded by dozens of friends or in contract alone in their room, understanding your child’s place on the extrovert/introvert spectrum can aid in your ability to listen, advise and care as a parent in the right way.
Pay attention in the right ways
Often, parents and kids can have polar opposite interests. The song you fell in love with 30 years ago is a far cry from your child’s current favorite song.
Yet, finding places where your interests overlap with your children’s can be important in developing your relationships. Find out what their favorite restaurant is. Or maybe their favorite musician. Or even their favorite video game.
This doesn’t mean the family only does what the child wants. Providing a balance in parent-chosen and child-chosen activities can expose both parties to each other’s interests and therefore create the best kind of lasting memories along the way.
Consequently, when you pay attention you naturally start making parenting decisions that better accommodate your children’s strengths and weaknesses. Every child has a unique, vibrant personality that gives parents important clues on how to best raise him or her.