Are You Paying the Right Kinds of Attention to Your Children?

A shy tween boy peaks between his fingers that are held over his face
Kelly Knox/Stocksy

"I'm totally stressed out!" Dean told me. "My family is always going somewhere or doing something. I never get any downtime!"

The 13-year-old boy sitting in my counseling office had been struggling with chronic anxiety and insomnia — unusual symptoms for someone his age.

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.

"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.

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.

Pay attention

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.

Let's be parents who take the time to see and hear who our children are so we can bond with each of them in uniquely special ways — showing them through our actions that we care about each of them as individuals. Out of that deeply relational understanding comes the ability to mentor, correct and teach each child the life lessons he or she needs to thrive.

Daniel Huerta is the vice president of Parenting and Youth at Focus on the Family.
This article first appeared in the August/September 2017 issue of Focus on the Family magazine and was originally titled "Are You Paying Attention?" If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get this publication delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.
© 2017 Focus on the Family.

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