What to Do When Kids Fight for Attention

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My husband and I learned soon into the process of parenting two children (which soon multiplied into four children) that each needed, wanted and deserved his or her own special time. In the multi-tasking mayhem of a typical family day, it is simply impossible to dedicate quantity based special time to each of our children each day. However, we’ve found a few ways to focus on the quality of each child’s special time –  and I wanted to share one in particular. This one, the best one, was inspired by one of our little guys.
One example is what we like to call the “I’m Talking Here” moment. About a year ago we went through a period of sitting around the dinner table with each child progressively “competing” for the “stage” more & more. Each wanted to share special stories about art projects, or friends, or lunch, or recess. Although we really treasured hear every last morsel, we longed for a “can we tape this and play it when we’re 80” machine. Four voices, all at the same time, was INSANE. At times, it’d be the loudest winning out. At other times, it would be one who cried or pulled most pressingly on my heartstrings. My husband and I were ready to stick green beans in my ears for a little peace and quiet.
One day, one of our three-year-old boys simply stood on his chair and quietly yet firmly proclaimed:

“I AM TALKING HERE!”

It drove him crazy that his older sisters would talk right over him even though they were not trying to be insensitive. He was too young to understand that each was just excited to talk about their day, and for whatever reason, we as the adults had not figured out a solution – nor had really recognized this as a problem. That day, our son solved this and we’ve never looked back.

We instituted a process that we go around the table, and each person (mommy, daddy, and guests included) has the floor for as long as they want it. Starting with our youngest set of twins, each boy would talk about the way their friends (Christopher got spaghetti in his hair at lunch, Mary burped…) which superhero was the strongest, and what they wanted for their birthday party theme (8 months in advance). It was as if they were discussing the sovereign debt crisis in Greece or global warming. Then the girls would go, and the boys could actually listen because they had their chance. I found that the rest of the dinner and baths and bedtime fell into a better rhythm as well. They were so happy to have everyone listening to them and getting a chance to say what was on their mind.

Self-expression is a big part of children developing confidence and reducing stress. No matter how many children you have in your family, it is important that each feels that his or her feelings and daily stories are part of the mix. Simply having the chance to get something off your chest and having a willing ear to talk to can do wonders for your child’s self esteem.

XOXO Dr. Jen

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