Parenting is the art of paying attention, and element number one of the Twelve Disciplinary Elements is paying attention to your child. You can learn almost everything you need to know about parenting your children by paying close attention to them. It's not easy, especially in today's rush-rush world. Not many of us can take life at a leisurely pace, and I know I'm not the only parent who's made multitasking—doing a bunch of things at the same time—a lifestyle. I read in the bathtub. I talk on the phone while cooking or gardening. I'm writing this in a restaurant while eating Thai noodles with basil and chicken, and when my daughter Annie was a baby, I learned how to fax, phone, and change a diaper at the same time.
Multitasking is not always appropriate, though. Children require focused attention. No, not every moment, but much of the time. If you don't really know your child, how will you understand what's wrong when things go wrong? How will you pick up the clues when your kid is flirting with trouble? How will you understand how to make things right for your child?
It's a Good Idea!
Use your multitasking to free up time to spend with your kids.
No slacking! Parenting requires time. And effective, positive discipline requires paying attention to what is going on in your child's life.
Big and Little “Troubles”
The odd thing is that, contrary to popular belief and the dim, vain hopes of sleep-deprived new parents, parenting doesn't become easier as your children grow. When your child is a baby, yeah, you're changing diapers, nursing, and burping the baby every five minutes. Okay, as your kid gets older, the less minute-by-minute attention is required. Then again, though, with a baby, your worries are relatively small (and usually are centered around bodily functions). The older your child gets, the more can go wrong. School, friends, behavior, independence issues—as the old Yiddish saying goes: “Little children, little troubles. Big children, big troubles.”
Now, more than ever, your kids need you to pay attention.
Pay Attention! Easier Said Than Done
I can tell you the importance of both quantity and quality time when you're trying to raise well-behaved kids, but it won't do you or your kids any good if you simply clear your schedule or quit your job. It's not enough to be there, hands idle, ears perked. Paying attention means more than being physically present. It means learning how to listen to your kids, how to talk with them, and how to respond to their actions. (Rest assured, you can still have a busy life and do all this.) Good, quality attention will improve the quality of your family's life—and there is always time for quality.