I've been thinking about this a lot lately, as I diligently work (and believe me, it's work!!) to train these kiddos to pay attention, I am totally amazed at how little I pay attention myself. This is something that clearly showed up over lent, as I made the decision to listen to my husband better as my lenten sacrifice. (Mock me if you will, but that man is hard to listen to sometimes. :D)
As I worked to LISTEN to him, and not assume that I knew what he wanted, not talk for him, and not talk him out of the room, I found that our relationship improved but also that my feelings for him improved-- I truly enjoyed him more and appreciated and even WANTED his insight more.
Same goes for my kiddos. You see, the first issue is that it's not that I have a problem with paying attention (my parents were pretty good about instilling that in me as well) it's that I am selective about what I'm going to pay attention to. I admit that from the beginning of this parenting experience, "children's babble" has not been high on that list. I am a thinker, and I like talking..... to other thinkers. One of the main concerns I had about homeschooling was that I thought I was going to go nuts teaching little children, even my beloved "own" children, colors, shapes, numbers, etc. I've always thought homeschooling them in high school would be infinitely more interesting than in the early years.... but then, thats the "me-centered" ideology I fight with all my might. Our decision to homeschool isn't about what's best for ME. It's about what's best for THEM. Either I embrace that or I don't. I did--- and now I love it. Even in the "early years.")
I seem to be alone in my woe a lot though. It may be because many people did not grow up with the intellectual stimulus that my parents provided, so they are content to do things with their children that children love to do because it's what they always did. For example, many of us motivated stay-at-home-moms are perfectly content to sit with their kids and watch The Lion King and snack, or to sit outside and draw with sidewalk chalk and eat popsicles.
Me? You couldn't pay me enough to watch the Lion King more than once (I still haven't actually SEEN it) or to play play dough. I find those things utterly inane and boring. I was the same way as a child. There are pictures of me in fourth grade reading Abigail Adam's autobiography instead of "choose your own adventure" or "the Babysitter's club." My parents pushed us to hike farther, read longer, and think harder than most of the parents around us, who encouraged us to have fun and just.... stay out of the way.
It was tough as a kid, but became rewarding later when the "deeper questions in life" were of more importance than all the stuff most people get worked up over (TV shows getting cancelled, restaurants closing, etc.) This is why I love things like Facebook, where I can interact at an adult level with other people who want to talk about the things that interest me while the kids do things like run outside or watch The Lion King. The trouble is, many times, the kids WANT to do things with me. And what I want to do with THEM is not really on their age level. They can't keep up with my workout, they don't understand my bible study, and they need help to cook. They don't want to talk about marriage and parenting, the meaning of a certain scripture passage, or make homeschooling schedules. Or rather, they do, but when they do it's on their level and usually involves an unebelievable amount of excitement, a big explanation and mess that just gives me a headache.
Homeschooling, in a very strange way, is a good cure for that problem because it allows me to draw them, little by little, into a higher plane of thinking--- we have a deeper purpose during school hours. But my ordinary life is very taxing, mentally and emotionally, because I've never been a "kid person." Not even when I was a kid. :D
Another thing that works is just getting over my desire to be around adults and talk about adult things. I am who I am today because people poured into me.... and if my kids are going to be anything, they will need exactly the same thing. Time. Attention. Dedication and genuine relationships with people, including adults and ESPECIALLY their parents. Clearly, for parents, attention is not an option, which is why it can be disheartening listening to other moms talk about how they stick their kids in daycare so they don't have to deal with them. You better believe that daycare worker will care less about your kid than you, and will pay less attention.... and will not want to go to the trouble of teaching YOUR kid to pay attention either. Daycare workers-- good ones--- will take their cues from the parents. And if the parents aren't making good habits a priority, they won't either.
So paying attention is important, but so is WHAT-- or rather WHO we are paying attention to. My kids matter. It isn't long, if you keep ignoring them, before they don't want to talk to you anymore. My heart and prayer is to cultivate that relationship with them as much as I can, from the very beginning, even if it means staying up late to talk about which Disney princess is nicer or where the tooth fairy might live.
Our society has created a bubble of inattention all around kids. Not having TV or playing video games makes that obvious to us watching from the outside....One needs only watch the speed and intensity with which modern cartoons shift or listen to the mundane and hyper lyrics and beats of kid- oriented music to see that we have completely abandoned necessities like calm, order, and discipline in favor of Fun! Fast! and Funky! Kids today play video games even as toddlers and go to bounce houses and movies once a week. Parents "keep them busy" with kid-themed activities that amount to surrounding them with noise and mania at incredible speeds until they collapse or throw tantrums.
They are seldom STILL, attentive, and listening.
On the other hand, they are children, after all. They do spend the majority of their time screeching, yelping. wiggling, and babbling contentedly. We can't expect them to sit still all the time... I had a good reminder from Dr Ray Guerendi's "Discipline that lasts a lifetime" the other day that even major levels of energy in children are healthy and normal and we shouldn't micromanage them to the point of making them lose their verve for life. True, true.... a little quiet does them good, but they need to get out and live too.
I compromise (I like to think I'm a "middle ground" parent) by giving them a mandatory 1 1/2 hr quiet time/ nap each day, and also by requiring them to be quiet and listen at mass, during liturgy of the hours, and when I read them books. I also let them go completely bananas at least once an hour, give them tons of opportunities to work hard, and try to smile and / or laugh at almost all moments. TRY. I'll be honest... Sometimes I frown or my eyes bug out and the vein in the middle of my forehead gets really, really big.
To teach them attention, I use Charlotte's principles. Short, varied lessons, making them work to perfection (and not just "good enough."), not rewarding them for effort but for achievement, and training them to stay and keep observing things a little bit longer than they are inclined to (for example, during nature study, or during a handwriting lesson.) I also train them to look into my eyes and really listen for my directions so they can obey correctly and not just "halfway." This gets a little weird when my six year old says things to me like: "Mommy, LOOK IN MY EYES! I'm trying to tell you something." I'm hoping she will quit that soon.
I don't know if it's working, because I feel like I spend about nine hours a day *patiently* barking.... "Pay attention!" or "that's why paying attention is so important!" or "but what did I TELL you to do?" or even... "atten-SHUN!" or any variation of the along those lines. Come to think of it, that was one of the first things they told me in Basic Training..... attention to detail doesn't appear to be anyone's forté.
However, this morning, I watched my six year old sneak around the backyard at seven a.m. while I fumbled around looking for coffee. She stood very still (!) for periods of five minutes at a time, and just listened. All around her, this choir of birds was singing away and my little ornithologist was mentally taking it all in, her gaze darting around as she watched the flight patterns, listened for the flurry of feathers, a cheep or chirp, and followed the calls to branches, nests, and patches of grass where her winged friends were doing their thing. Eventually, her two year old sister joined her, and mimicked her naturalist technique.
It was awesome to watch, and I am quite sure that it showed that somehow, some way, the habit of attention was getting through, much to my joy and surprise.
At the same time, there is a line to be drawn. I am very clear with my kids that at certain times during the day I am "otherwise occupied," whether it's to work, to take a five minute break on FB, or to read an article or finish a project. I expect them to give me that time because I wholly devote myself to them the rest of the time, and as I said, I'm a "middle of the road" kind of parent--- believing that they need equal doses of "entertaining themselves" and "motherly guidance." (My kids are young, so I tend to give them an extraordinary amount of what Charlotte Mason called "masterly inactivity" which will diminish much as they get older and require more of "my thoughts.")
The point of all this, I guess, is that attention is not a one-sided habit. Our kids pick up what we model, and nothing, after teaching them obedience, is as important is teaching them attention. Just as I model obedience for them by obeying my husband, the law, and the Church, I try to model attention for them by listening, focusing, staying on task, and following directions. The more I try, the more I realize how deficient I am in this habit, and the more I work at training myself along with them.
In what ways do you intentionally try to build the habit of attention into your children?