All children have an Attention Cup that needs to be filled everyday. They wake up up each day with an empty Attention Cup and they expect and need it to be filled everyday before they go to sleep again.
The size of the Attention Cup is not constant. Children go through various highs and lows in their need for Attention. Generally, the younger the child the bigger the Attention Cup, but some older children have just as great a need for Attention as babies. There is nothing right or wrong about the size of the Attention Cup.
Babies and young children require that their Attention Cups be filled by their parents and, most often, specifically by their mothers. Older children, even toddlers, are able to get some of their Attention Cup filled by other loving adults or even by older children. But the Attention Cup primarily needs to be filled by the person or people from whom the child expects unconditional love.
When a child's Attention Cup is perpetually unfilled at the end of everyday, two behaviours tend to happen:
- The child becomes withdrawn and quiet. She may try very hard to always please other people in order to garner some much needed attention. Or she may become very dependent on her peer group as a source of attention.
- The child becomes loud and often aggressive. She is fussy, whiny, demanding, rude or highly emotional.
Even now when I am at the playground with my daughters there is inevitably a child calling to me to observe his or her play. Usually the child's parent is standing nearby completely disengaged from the child by talking or texting with someone. As many times as it has happened, I am still stunned when a child who has never seen me before is seeking my attention and approval in a public place. My children would never seek attention from a stranger (unless perhaps there were a serious physical emergency and I was nowhere to be found, but even then, I'm not sure they wouldn't just try to handle it themselves!)
There is no rule for how much attention a child should need. A child needs attention until her Attention Cup is full. Only she can know when she is completely saturated with attention.
How can the parent know that their child is not receiving enough attention? Here are some typical behaviours to watch for:
- Your child will not sleep at bedtime, even if you stay with her.
- She begins to have separation-anxiety even if she has never demonstrated this behaviour before and even if she is staying with familiar, loving caregivers.
- She refuses to cooperate with common activities such as putting on shoes or going to the grocery store.
- He starts hitting or biting.
- He fights with his siblings over things that used to be non-issues.
- He withdraws from your touch.
I have learned that it is not enough to present. I have to be engaged.
And when I notice that my own Attention Cup seems to be going unfilled, I need to be active in getting it filled too. I need to seek extra support from Partner-Guy or I need to call my mother or sister or I need to get out to visit a friend.
How do you make sure that everyone in your family has a full Attention Cup at the end of every day?