Simone Weil said that, "attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity". This is such a refreshing view in a society that often sees children’s need for attention as something irritating.
Full attention, a gift to the child
We hear so much about the “attention seeking” child, as if it is a deficit in the child and something to be stopped before it becomes ingrained in the child.
What we recognise as heart-centred teachers is that full attention is like a gift to a child, and that so called attention seeking is actually a cry for connection, and a sign that an emotional fuel tank is running low.
Children not only desire full attention, but we believe they have an absolute right to it. A small dose of undivided, full attention with a caring adult is enough to recharge the emotional battery and allow a child to move off happily and engage in activities alone or with friends.
Half attention or full attention?
It is a misinterpretation that children want adult attention all the time. They don’t. It is not only unrealistic to offer that to a child, but it is not healthy or desirable for the child either. Sure, some children enjoy the adult interaction more than others, but children also seek time alone, time with other children and time to just be.
What is true, however, is that if children are only ever receiving half our attention they do not get the benefit of full attention at all and so are always looking for a ‘top up’.
In a technology obsessed society, and with the glorification of busyness and multi-tasking, full attention for children is probably harder to come by.
To feel loved is to feel safe
What we know with all our being though is that children can only be really settled in themselves if their emotional needs for connection and safety are met. If they are emotionally satisfied, right to the brim, they will move on from us and only return when in need of a recharge. This is what independence and security look like.
Full attention is the most effective form of recharging, and is completely worth the investment - not just for the child’s sake but for our own. Slowing down and being present with a child brings more mindfulness to our own lives and reminds us what is important.
What children gain from full attention is the feeling of being truly seen and truly heard. We know that “being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable” (David Augsburger).
Time in, not time out
Many ECE programmes are not set up in such a way that 1:1 time with an adult is valued, ignoring that this is crucial.
If our environment is well prepared and heart centred we will have opportunities to deliberately ‘un-busy’ ourselves and slow down the whole pace of our programme so that 1:1 time is possible. We model respect for this time in such a way that our children know that each child is entitled to their time, and while they may need to wait to speak or be with a teacher, when their time comes, we will be there for them alone.
Presence is not something that can be multi-tasked, and in our environment it is ok for us to not be interrupted when with a child.
Children are very adept at noticing when our attention is elsewhere, and being tuned in to them fully in small doses throughout the day not only provides them what they need, but models to them the importance of respect and attention in relationships. These children will ideally go on to be adults who focus and tune into others as a natural way of being.
Relationships can flourish and fuel tanks be filled from even brief times of connection. As heart centred teachers we consciously build opportunities for these moments within our day.
Children blossom when they feel heard and loved
Emotional safety is as much a need of the child’s as food and water when they are in our environment. We know this and we meet this need through attention, and a commitment to connected relationships.
Our children flourish when their needs are met, and we look at a child’s desire for attention in a different light than you might hear elsewhere.
We don’t see ‘attention seeking’ as something negative, we see it as a wonderful expression of human-ness. As with all the emotional needs a child has, we ensure that what they seek, they can find!
(This article was adapted from a previously published blog post 'Full attention is the best recharge')