The Power of Attention

Have you noticed how hard it is to walk behind someone playing with their phone? Dancing unpredictably with themselves and generally getting in your way, they move like they are treading on an ant colony. If only they were paying attention to you. 

Attention is central to our world. Everyone and everything competes for it; from TV screens in bars which draw your eyes from your friend’s, to social media and advertising shouting at you from any device. In school, teachers despair at children who simply will not pay attention. Soldiers are ordered to ‘attention!’ Yet few hold it for very long. Indeed, at times it is conspicuously missing, or occasionally in ‘disorder’. Perhaps it would help to look at it from a different angle, one where attention is very much present.

On becoming a parent, you are attentive to your baby’s every need. Your awe-inspiring little bundle of noise, mess and love is attended to like an unexploded bomb. Over time, this attention develops in line with your experience and interests, but also in response to your child; you learn together as you get to know each other. The dictionary describes a parent as the mother or father of a person; you have a position. From your position, you have a view of – and a perspective on – your child. What you attend to will help shape your relationship. 

Some parents attend particularly to their child’s appearance, or their education; others to their leisure time or family relationships. Your child will develop a sense of the importance of the things which receive attention. They may take them on for themselves, they may adapt or reject them, but they will not go unnoticed. The attention you give is therefore powerful and will colour your child’s responses to you and others. 

It is also important to attend to yourself; to look after yourself, but also to catch yourself and what you are focusing on when you are with your child. You then have a sense of what they may see in you. It is a reflective position, where you think about how you may be understood by someone else.  It is something akin to Mindfulness. “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgementally.’’ (Kabat-Zinn, 1994 p.4) If you are looking for ways to understand your child, look no further than where you direct your – and their – attention. 

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994) Wherever You Go, There You Are. Piaktus, New York

Written by:
Robert Leveson
Psychotherapist & Counsellor,
Children and Families (Reg; TSP, BPC)
SACAC Counselling

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