“Look! I’m going to jump
off the diving board.” “Dad, watch me ride my bike.”
“Mom, see how I fix my hair.”
“Watch. I’m going to do a cartwheel.”
Children constantly ask their parents to pay attention. Even in the
car, a child will ask a parent who’s driving to look at a picture in
his notebook or watch him make faces in the mirror. He doesn’t think
about what his parents are doing, only about his immediate desire to
be watched. Sometimes these calls for attention are delightful.
Sometimes they’re annoying.
A child does a lot of things he considers exciting, and he wants to
share them with his parents. As he perfects a skill or does
something new, he wants to be acknowledged and praised. Kids thrive
on attention and positive feedback from parents. They want to hear,
“Terrific” “Great job,” “Nice throw,” “Good try” Since parents don’t
always pay attention spontaneously, children say, “Watch me!” again
Parents often underestimate the importance of watching. Those who do
pay attention, especially without being asked, send a strong message
of acceptance and love. A child who believes he’s interesting and
important enough to capture his parents’ attention will develop a
healthy self-image. A child who has trouble attracting their
attention will feel that what he does isn’t valuable enough.
Parents can learn a great deal about their child’s interests and
abilities by watching him participate in activities. However, they
should be careful about offering unasked for advice. A child who
says, “Watch me,” wants approval, not coaching. One boy who used to
say, “Watch me play baseball!” gradually lost interest because of
his father’s constant instructions: “Hold your glove like this. Lift
your arm higher when you throw. Let me show you how to hit the
ball.” The boy’s enjoyment faded because—whatever his father’s real
intentions—the boy heard only criticism.
You may find that you are, as most adults, engrossed in your own
activities. There are phone calls to make, bills to pay, laundry to
do, repairs to make. When you’re occupied, you may not want to take
time and watch your child perform some seemingly trivial activity
Yet, childhood years go by quickly and children’s requests are
reasonable and increasingly infrequent. A few minutes of
acknowledgment and interest (solicited or unsolicited) can enhance
his view of himself and give you something to think about and
remember. Once it’s too late, many parents wish they’d spent more
time “watching” when their children were young.