A common scenario we encounter… a child falls, gets hurt, and then follows a wail. The parent/caregiver runs to the rescue, pick up the child, and says, ‘Oh, nothing happened. Maybe you could sit here and play with some other toy.’ There is no more crying or any tantrum, the tension is diffused, and the situation is totally under control. What exactly happened here? The answer, how I see it, the child’s feelings have been invalidated, their emotions suppressed, and very successfully ‘distracted’ the child.
WHY DISTRACTION SHOULD NOT BE AN OPTION:
1. Works only for younger children:
While I was researching various methods to handle tantrums in my twins, I came across ample tips and tricks to deal with tantrums, and I would put them all to use; some worked, some not really. But when I read about distraction as a successful tool to handle tantrums in children, I found something was off about it. Nonetheless, I started using distraction during tantrums of my children, and voila! It worked like magic…Distraction works! Then one day, while I was distracting my son as he was trying to snatch a block from his sister’s hands, I, like a good mother, ran to the scene with his favorite car. Only this time, my son asks me, looking deeply into my eyes, “Mama, when I want the block, why do you give me the car?” He continues staring at me, waiting for an answer, and I didn’t know what to say. The life-saving tool of distraction was not going to be helpful anymore as my children were growing up and asking questions. That’s when it hit me that distraction works only for younger children, and now my children were old enough not to be fooled.
All this time instead of distracting my children, maybe I could have up-skilled myself in learning tips to handle tantrums that could help in long term.
2. It is disrespectful:
I sat down to reflect on my son’s question again. I could discern that distraction works on the premise that children are silly people who can be fooled, and this was totally against my parenting principle of raising children with respect.
Being respected is one of the emotional needs of a child and distraction seems to rob it away.
3. It isn’t genuine:
Picture this… you talk to your spouse about your feelings, and your spouse disregards your feelings or distracts you. Do you feel good about his/her behavior? It looks totally inauthentic, right! That’s exactly what children feel when we distract them. The least they want is for someone to listen to them.
4. Negative long-term effect:
When we distract our children from unpleasant emotions, the feelings don’t just go away. These feelings are repressed and keep piling up inside the child, and out of nowhere, they may erupt sometime later in a much severe form.
When we keep distracting a child in a difficult situation, the child gets wired to be distracted rather than focus on the problem at hand. The more we practice something, the better we get at it. Likewise, a child trained to be distracted will continue this even in adult life, learning to walk away from difficult situations rather than to confront them or tackle them. Building the life skill of resilience is lost here.
5. Robs away opportunity to become self-aware:
A child in a tantrum or conflict with peers can be taught to introspect and become self-aware of his/her own feelings. More on this, in my previous blog, ‘4 Tips to Raise Your Child’s Self-Awareness’.
According to a study conducted by Harvard, we are distracted about 47% of our waking up time. That means almost half our lives we are distracted. Where have we learnt it from? Is it that the seed of distraction has been sown in our childhood and we have practiced the art of distraction and hence we are living a distracted life? Are we imparting the same ‘art of distraction’ to our children?