“Look! I’m jumping off the diving board.” “Dad, watch me ride my bike.” “Watch me 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 book 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.
Your child does a lot of things he considers exciting, and he wants to share them with you. As he perfects a skill or tries 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,” and “Good try.” Since parents don’t always pay attention spontaneously, children say, “Watch me!” again and again.
Parents often underestimate the importance of watching. When you pay attention, your child believes he’s interesting and important enough to capture your attention, which helps him develop a healthy self-image.
You can learn a great deal about your child’s interests and abilities by watching him participate in activities. However, you should be careful about offering unsolicited advice. When your child says, “Watch me,” he 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. “I’m not good enough. Why keep trying?”
You may find that you’re, like most adults, engrossed in your own activities. There are phone calls to make, emails to write, bills to pay, laundry to do, repairs to attend to. When you’re occupied, you may not want to take time to 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 can enhance your child’s 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.