What is positive attention?
Positive attention is responding to your child in warm, loving and encouraging ways. For example, this might be:
- smiling at your child
- making eye contact and using caring facial expressions
- showing physical affection – for example, hugging your child
- praising and encouraging your child
- showing interest in your child’s interests, activities and achievements.
Why positive attention is important
From birth, children need experiences and relationships that show them they’re valued, capable human beings who make other people happy. Positive attention, reactions and responses from familiar and trusted grown-ups help children build a picture of how valued they are.
Your child’s self-image builds up over time with positive, loving messages from you and other important people in your child’s life. A healthy self-image is very important, not only for your child’s relationship with others, but also for your child’s confidence as they learn about the world.
Your child’s feelings of security and safety come from warm and responsive interactions with you and other carers. If you smile at your child when they look towards you or reassure your child when they’re frightened or uncertain, your child will feel safe and secure. This gives your child confidence as they explore their world.
All children do best in an environment where they feel supported, encouraged and safe. In fact, warm and positive relationships are key to children’s development.
How to show positive attention: all ages
Daily activities like changing a nappy, supervising a bath or walking to school give you the chance to connect with your child in meaningful ways. For example, you can give positive attention by cuddling and tickling your toddler while you’re drying them after a bath. Or you can sit with your arm around your child while you watch TV together.
No matter how old your child is, there are simple things you can do every day to send the message that your child is special and important. For example:
- Look at your child and smile.
- Stop, pay attention and listen closely when your child talks to you.
- Show interest in things that are important to your child. For example, ‘Tell me more about stegosauruses’.
- Create some special family rituals you can share together.
- Make time to be with your child, doing things you enjoy together.
- Praise your child when they try hard or try something new. For example, ‘What a beautiful drawing! Great work with the shading’.
There are also ways you can show positive attention at different ages.
Newborns and babies: positive attention tips
Even before babies can understand and use words, they respond to your tone of voice, gestures, facial expressions and body language.
Here are ways to give your baby positive attention:
- Smile when your baby smiles at you.
- Comfort your baby when your baby cries.
- Respond to the sounds your baby makes by saying something in return.
- Chat about what’s going on around you both.
- Notice what your baby is interested in and encourage them to explore. For example, show your baby how to shake a colourful rattle that has caught their eye.
Toddlers: positive attention tips
As children get older, they understand more of what you say, as well as how you say it.
Here are tips for positive attention at this age:
- Get into the moment with your toddler. This could be as simple as crouching down to look at a caterpillar together.
- When you’re talking with your toddler, leave time after you talk so your child can reply.
- When you’re playing with your toddler, comment on what your child is doing, without trying to get them to do things differently. For example, ‘Wow, that’s a tall tower! How many more blocks before it falls down?’
- Tell your child exactly what you like about what they’re doing. For example, ‘I love it when you help to pick up the blocks’.
Preschoolers: positive attention tips
There are so many ways you can give your preschooler positive attention as they learn about the world. For example:
- Make time to do your child’s favourite activities together – for example, jigsaws, Lego, painting and so on.
- Smile and make eye contact with your child when you greet them in the morning. Perhaps even take a moment for a special cuddle.
- Show your child you’re happy to see them after preschool. Tell your child that you missed them, or give your child hugs and high fives.
- Give your child descriptive praise when they’re helpful. For example, ‘I love how you put your shoes on this morning’.
School-age children and pre-teens: positive attention tips
Children’s worlds expand when they go to school. But your warmth and positive attention are still the biggest influences on your child’s development.
Try these ideas:
- Stop what you’re doing and listen when your child wants to talk about school. This might be when your child gets home or later, when they’re in the bath or in bed.
- Ask your child about one good thing that happened during the day. If your child finds it hard to answer, try being a bit more specific. For example, ‘What was your favourite thing to do in the classroom today?’
- Ask follow-up questions when your child starts talking. This keeps the conversation going. For example, ‘And what did you do after the handball game finished?’
- Remember the names of your child’s friends, and ask about them.
- Watch your child’s favourite show or listen to their favourite song together.
- Notice and guide your child’s positive interactions with others. For example, ‘I think Hunter liked it when you asked about her holiday. It gave her a chance to talk about something special to her’.
- If you need to give constructive feedback, say something positive at the same time. For example, ‘Usually you do good sharing. I can see it’s hard just now, but think about how your friends feel when you don’t let them have a turn’.
Positive attention: how it adds up over time
Over time, it’s important to give your child more positive attention than negative attention. If you can give your child positive attention most of the time, your child will have a strong sense of being secure and loved.
Also, when you give your child a lot of positive attention, you’re a great role model for your child. Your child is likely to copy the way you talk and behave, which can mean they have more positive interactions with others.
And plenty of positive attention will outweigh those occasional times when you feel frustrated or distracted, or you can’t give your child as much attention as you’d like.
If many of your daily interactions with your child are negative, or if it’s hard for you to feel or act positively with your child, it’s worth seeking professional help. Start by seeing your GP or a counsellor. These professionals can help you get your relationship with your child back on track. Your relationship might even end up stronger.