Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Importance of the "Look at Me" Moment

Many parents hear "Look at me!!!," from their toddlers multiple times a day. A new study suggests child development can be affected based on how moms and dads respond.

The Importance of the “Look at Me” Moment

A new study suggests child development can be affected based on how moms and dads respond to their child. (AP Photo)
A new study suggests child development can be affected based on how moms and dads respond to their child. (AP Photo)

How many times can a toddler say “Look at me!!!” in an hour? Parents of 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds know the right answer is dozens. And dozens. Now, a fascinating new study suggests that your response to this oft-repeated bid for attention can set the stage for better, more cooperative learning.

Child-development researchers from Canada’s Concordia University figured it out by watching kids and parents interact. First, they asked parents to fill out a long, complicated questionnaire while their toddler was with them. Soon enough, the kids began asking for attention. Some laughed, smiled, pointed at objects, tried to share their toys and even interrupted with a polite “excuse me, mommy” – signs, the researchers say, that their parents are usually attentive, sensitive and responsive and that the  kids expected more of the same. Other toddlers screamed, cried and even hurled their parent’s pen across the room – behavior that, according to the researchers, meant the kids weren’t used to the same high-quality attention from their parents.

The parents and kids then worked together learning a new skill, like how to pick up a ball. Kids who had received “high quality” attention were more likely to work with their parent than those who had not. 

There’s plenty that this study couldn’t account for – like a toddler who’s missed her nap, didn’t eat much lunch or is cranky because he’s cutting a new tooth. Or a parent who’s just having a bad day or who really, really needs to get the bills paid or finish up a report for work despite hundreds of interruptions. But the basic finding makes a lot of sense: Little kids who expect good things when they interact with grown-ups are more likely to want to keep on interacting – and not just when they’re jumping off the sofa, wearing a soup pot as a hat or showing off a new crayoned creation. It seems a love of learning – and of working with other people in order to learn —  has its roots in what you do when they yell LOOK AT ME!

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The researchers are now looking at what happens when kids seek the attention of a parent who’s using a cell phone – a major source of parental distraction.

What do you think? How do you balance giving your kids the attention they need, and ask for, with meeting your own needs to relax, socialize or get some work done?

About this blog
The Healthy Kids blog is your window into the latest news, research and advice around children's health. Learn more about our growing list of contributors here.

If you have questions about your child's health, ask them here.

Anna Nguyen Healthy Kids blog Editor
Sarah Levin Allen, Ph.D., CBIS Assistant Professor of Psychology at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Stephen Aronoff, M.D., M.B.A. Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Temple University Hospital
Peter Bidey, D.O. Medical Director of Family Medicine at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Christopher C. Chang, MD, PhD, MBA, FAAAAI, FACAAI Associate Professor of Medicine in division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Clinical Immunology at UC Davis
Katherine K. Dahlsgaard, Ph.D. Lead Psychologist of The Anxiety Behaviors Clinic at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Gary A. Emmett, M.D., F.A.A.P Director of Hospital Pediatrics at TJU Hospital & Pediatrics Professor at Thomas Jefferson Univ.
Magee DeFelice, M.D. Division Chief of Allergy and Immunology at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children
Hazel Guinto-Ocampo, M.D. Chief of Pediatric Emergency Services at Nemours duPont Pediatrics/Bryn Mawr Hospital
Rima Himelstein, M.D. Adolescent Medicine Specialist at Crozer-Keystone Health System
Jessica Kendorski, PhD, NCSP, BCBA-D Associate Professor in School Psychology/Applied Behavior Analysis at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Anita Kulick President & CEO, Educating Communities for Parenting
Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA VP for Programs & Research for Prevent Child Abuse America
Beth Wallace Smith, R.D. Registered Dietitian at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Emiliano Tatar, M.D. Pediatrician at Einstein Healthcare Network Roxborough Plaza
Jeanette Trella, Pharm.D Managing Director at The Poison Control Center at CHOP
W. Douglas Tynan, Ph.D., ABPP Director of Integrated Health Care for American Psychological Association
Flaura Koplin Winston, M.D., Ph.D. Scientific Director of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention
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