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Being There

Are You Multi-Tasking Your Kids?
Do your children seem to be initiating fewer conversations with you? Asking you to play with them less often? Not seeking out your company as much? It could be that your children have discovered that you are not really there with them when you are sharing their company. Repeated attempts for your undivided attention have met with failure and they have either consciously or unconsciously retreated from trying to fully connect with you. Wearied, saddened, and disappointed at being made part of your multi-tasking activities, they have become reluctant to eagerly engage you.

Children should not be multi-tasked. They need regular, frequent times spent with their parents, where they feel your complete and total interest in them. During these shared times, they must feel appreciated and valued and the only focus of your attention. They need to know that during these moments, when they are telling you the stories of their lives, playing games, or just hanging out with you, that you are taking great joy and delight in being with them and that you are fully connected to them.

How can your son possibly convey the excitement of his baseball game to you, replete with countless details of dropped balls and extra innings drama, when you are watching TV or thumbing through the newspaper? He needs you to look eagerly only at him, sharing his excitement, asking him what it felt like to stand on second base after hitting his first double. He needs you to demonstrate your avid interest in his story as he animatedly tells you about something very important that just happened in his world. He needs you to be there during these times.

Putting Business on Hold
I once counseled a married couple, whose six-year-old daughter was in need of much more of her workaholic father's attention and time. Dad agreed to spend an hour after dinner every weekday night, one-on-one with his daughter -- playing board games, reading, doing anything that she wanted to do with him. Their after-dinner special time together was interrupted by calls from his boss every night of this experiment's first week. Business calls were the norm after dinner and they consumed most of the designated father-daughter time.

At our next counseling session, Mom reported seeing her daughter's sad and disappointed face every night that her husband interrupted their special time by taking these long business calls. Dad clearly felt badly about it and we further discussed the importance of this crucial time with his daughter and his need to take a look at his life's priorities.

Five minutes into their next father-daughter session after dinnertime, the phone rang and Mom picked it up. She handed the phone to her husband saying, "It's your boss." As he got up to take the call, his daughter's saddened face returned. He explained to his boss that he couldn't talk just then because he was in the middle of playing a long, exciting game of Candyland with his daughter. They agreed to discuss business at work the following morning. Mom told me that when her husband returned to their daughter's side, her broad smile seemed to say, "Daddy, you chose me this time!" After much soul-searching, Dad had decided what was most important was being there with his daughter. That night, his relationship with both his wife and daughter changed profoundly.

Our children need our frequent, undivided and genuine attention and interest -- in both small and large doses. There is no substitute for these precious times that make a child feel loved, valued, and worthy. Your children know when you are feigning interest in their stories, half-heartedly playing games with them, or mentally preoccupied. They know when you're faking it, and in their minds, you are loudly proclaiming that you would rather be elsewhere, that you are uninterested in them and in their world. Turn off the TV, shut off the computer, take that call another time, and balance your checkbook after your children are in bed. Stop multi-tasking your children. Remember how you felt when your parent or any adult made you believe that she would rather be spending time with you than doing anything else on earth? Give your kids that feeling. Be there!

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