How To “Earn” Your Child’s Total Attention — When You Need It the Most!
Let me teach you the most critical skill I’ve learned from martial arts and 25 years of working with kids and families
“How do I get them to pay attention…
…to what they’re supposed to be doing…
…and show respect to…
to me… to their teacher…whoever matters?
This is THE #1 question I get all of the time, from busy parents and caring adults tasked with herding and engaging kids and teens.
It’s also a question I struggled to answer myself for the first 10 of my 25 years working with kids and families.
Why this is “The” Most Important Lesson…
It’s understandable that as parents, we routinely exclaim — out loud or in our heads —
“He’s just not focused!
“I can’t get their attention long enough…”
“Why don’t they show more respect?!”
It’s understandable because quality attention is the most precious currency we have to give.
Attention is the key to showing deep respect, which we all crave to receive.
But, it’s also a strategic necessity.
If you don’t have your child’s full attention, you can forget about everything else.
Whatever urgent command we want to be heeded or sagelike wisdom we wish to be taken to heart — without their full attention and genuine openness to take us in — what comes out of your mouth next will NOT register, land, or stick.
That’s why when I teach parents and helping professionals how to do this, I call it… “THE MOST IMPORTANT FIRST LESSON and SKILL.”
It sounds like hyperbole, but it’s not.
In case the full gravity of it is not clear.
Having the ability to summon your child’s full attention — when it’s really needed — opens the door to everything else — trust, love, and especially you being able to influence them in the best ways possible.
Now, back to the solution.
Let’s begin with the big picture idea: the concept of “alignment”.
It’s a deceptively simple idea which both kids in kindergarten, competent martial artists, and high-level CEO’s understand and instantly respond to.
“Alignment” is defined in the Webster dictionary as both:
- Arrangement in a straight line, or in correct or appropriate relative positions.
- A position of agreement or alliance.
I see alignment as an active verb:
To “ALIGN” means to willingly turn towards
others to face them with more presence.
To test this idea out — whether it works to increase attention or not — let’s see it in the most extreme and concrete of contexts; that of a physical conflict.
“ALIGNING” in the context of physical conflict
If a bad person tried to attack you — like you see my friend Chris attempting to do so with a wooden sword — what is the most common response?
It is the opposite of aligning.
Out of an instinct of fear, you see me turn away “trying” to avoid a negative consequence.
Yet, the problem with turning away — in this context — is obvious, isn’t it?
I am more vulnerable to being hurt badly.
I don’t see what he is doing.
I am unable to respond and so to defend myself very well, if at all!
So what can I do about it?
The solution that is instantly within my power is to “align”.
Aligning is me fully facing Chris and the threat he poses with the sword.
All the while, I make clear eye contact as my belly aligns to his belly, like a tether between us.
Aligning under the threat of attack is both scarier and also the wiser option. It allows me to see better, to protect my vital areas and increases my ability to influence my attacker.
Let’s see that in action.
As the sword goes down where I stood a moment ago, I get off the line of attack (an analogy for not taking verbal attacks personally also).
Simultaneously, I am sliding in closer to better influence him.
Thus increasing my safety and my ability to diffuse this conflict.
The Everyday Context
Now, in more everyday situations of parenting — any moment between yourself and your child — the dynamics are eerily similar.
Our physical safety is not threatened perhaps.
But, let’s consider the impact of neglecting to “align” with someone who matters.
It doesn’t matter if it is not even intentional — as we may just be distracted by our phones or an urgent matter.
The consequences are still negative and costly.
The other person feels naturally rejected, ignored, and/or dissed.
So, how do we actually “ALIGN”?
As you know already, it took me ten years to find the answer.
Once I did, everything changed for me around kids (and once I started using it with my wife, my marriage got better too).
Here it is as a concrete skill — which you can learn and use immediately — in three very quick and simple steps.
Though it happens in a few seconds, let’s break it down into three micro steps.
STEP 1: Set up a Cue
You need a cue which sets up your clear intent to share total attention and respect with your child.
If we look at other times and cultural practices, people would bow, curtsy, or use special handshakes, embraces, etc..
One of my favorite cues is called “Hands & Eyes”. It was developed by Chris Biffle who leads a movement of highly engaging educators called Whole Brain Teaching. You can see the simple way it is done in these brief examples:
You can use “Hands and Eyes” with your child, but apparently, it’s trademarked so I can’t tell you to do so. : )
When I lead groups of kids or interact with my own daughter and her nieces and nephews, we often make up your own cue, as a secret code between us.
My favorite cue to use is to say their name and…
“…EYE to EYE, please.”
STEP 2: Make the Invitation
Once the cue is set up, the invitation comes next.
This part is two-fold.
One, you are asking for their eyes to meet yours and, two, you are giving them your undivided attention as you do so.
It’s not a demand.
They are not being pressured or guilted. There is zero coercion.
If you are used to being ignored or dismissed, by asking for “Eye to Eye” you are doing two radically new things to change the ingrained old patterns between you.
First, you are giving your total attention. They are not used to that! It looks like respect and feels so good to receive.
Second, you are inviting and asking for a mutual response.
Give it and ask for it back.
Now, the last step…
STEP 3: Respond Accordingly
This part is critical.
Whether they join you or not (especially the first few times you ask) is unimportant.
What matters is how you respond.
You are playing the long game.
Here’s the crazy part.
Be happy when they reply in kind, but be ready and expect them to say NO!
There is a way to respond to both and still WIN: which establishes a culture of connecting with fuller attention and respect.
HOW to inspire and compel them to WANT to reciprocate our invitation…
Imagine your invitation to connect is like this red ball (below) which you are tossing to your child, hoping they catch it and throw it back.
Why would your child choose to turn to you and open up to catch your ball rather than choosing to turn away and shun you?
The key is your tone.
If you state your cue with impatience and annoyance — totally normal and natural to do as a parent at least half the time! — you will get very different results than if you send the message with love and appreciation.
Kinda obvious, right?
But, do we even realize that as we normally nag, demand or beg of our kids to give us their attention?
I’m shaking my head at how often — out of habit — I forget this myself.
To be able to compel your child to whole-heartedly want to give you their full attention and respect, you will need to take lead in creating unforgettable and positive moments together.
It will involve sending them the most powerful and loving ball of emotion you can summon within you.
Easy to say, harder to do at times?
Let’s see a full demonstration from a pro next…
My daughter shows us how it’s done!
My daughter, Sofia, may only be 6 but she is a faster learner than I ever was.
Being super perceptive, she often watches me closely.
And before I know it, she wants to teach me stuff that I’ve spent years teaching others!
In this short video below, she is schooling me on how to initiate aligning when I am being a “Screen zombie”:
Now, you may be thinking, “This sounds too easy. Too simple!”
It actually is that simple. Just do the 3 steps above.
Whether it is easy or not, that’s another story.
My dare to you…
In reading this piece almost to the end, you have the knowledge but knowledge alone is not power, it is the seed (potential) for powerful change to occur.
What you do with it next will make all the difference.
You have the ability to radically improve the interactions with your child or teen, by aligning with them for a few seconds, generously giving your full and positive attention.
If you dare to “try” aligning.
Expect to sometimes feel rejected, vulnerable and disappointed.
Yup. That’s the risk of being the caring adult in the room, and a parent who takes lead.
But, if that happens to you, don’t lose heart and don’t give up.
There is a reason it happens — certain intense emotions can over power our good intentions and even our most solemn commitments to being more powerful and loving.
Emotions trump reason, good intentions and even — at times — our will power.
The biggest barrier parents should expect
Many parents have come back to tell me about it.
When they tried to give their full attention and respect, their child did not respond in kind.
They either ignored them or turned and gave them a half-assed, rolling their eyes kinda meh response.
Such parents react — understandably — by feeling rejected or disrespected (or both).
Now, out of such powerful emotions, most parents give up trying and go back to doing what they were doing before.
This means they return to the comfort of coddling their own PED (Parental Entitlement Delusion) while doing the 10.5 things that make it harder to get the attention and respect they crave.
But, I suspect that this won’t be you.
I have hope that you different.
Already I know that you are not a quitter.
Look how far you got with this series. Almost done this part and so nearly two thirds to the end!
That counts for something when you are a busy parent!
I suspect also that the well-being or your child and the strength of your bond is more important to you than your ego.
Invest the time and courage it will take to make change…
Rome wasn’t built in a day.
And, if the emotional bank account between you and your child is low or in the red (more negative than positive), you have to keep putting in deposits to get back in their good books.
If you are brave and caring enough to want to know exactly how to become bigger than any sucky feelings of rejection and disrespect, you will love part 3 (last piece) of the POWER of ATTENTION series.
It’s entitled the “Rejection Proof Parenting: An Intimate Masterclass”.
I will show you what to do practically if your child (or teen) is totally ignoring you, trying to punish you or giving you a meh response.
I will also help you understand the mindset of a parent who is truly rejection and disrespect proof, able to respond from a place of detached compassion where you believe wholeheartedly that:
“Our kids do not have the power to reject or disrespect us… unless we give them that power.”
I also made this last part easier and more dynamic for you.
It’s a video you click and sit back to watch.
It even comes with a pdf so you don’t need to take notes!
How lucky are you?
Now, I’m being cheeky, aren’t I?
Evolving your parenting game is a big deal. It takes a tonne of humility, courage and commitment.
I get that.
Thank you for stepping into it with me so far.
Here is the next step when you are ready for it.
P.S. ~ There is no opt-in to get access.
If you find this series meaningful and helpful and want more resources, you can sign up any time and so freely choose to stay in touch with me more meaningfully, without frequent group emails or any sales pitch.
P.P.S. ~ Thank you for giving me your full attention and respect.
That you invested some of your precious time to read this and even consider acting on the dare I give to you, is an honour for me to offer you one of my most valuable teachings.
My bow of respect to you.