Does your child ever ignore you?
Imagine you ask a question: “do you want milk or orange juice?”
The child, happily playing with her toys, doesn’t answer.
So you ask again in a louder voice:
“Do you want milk or orange juice?
“HEY! DO YOU WANT MILK OR ORANGE JUICE!?” You ask one more time with your last thread of patience.
You know that if you give your little dictator the wrong drink, everyone might pay by listening to the screaming that ensues. So you proceed with frustration and fear by either choosing for them, or getting right in their face and making eye contact, pulling them away from their current activity, and asking one more time with a deep breath:
“Do you want milk or orange juice?” Finally, the child responds when you have their head in your hands and making eye contact and they see your lips move.
When you do this over and over throughout the day with one, or more, children, there might be proverbial steam coming out of your ears.
But that whole thing about your kid ignoring you? It’s not entirely their fault.
There’s a Swiss psychologist named Jean Piaget from the 1950’s who developed one of the best-known cognitive development theories for children called genetic epistemology. He said that children between the ages of two and seven years old, “display a tendency known as centration, which means that they can focus on only one aspect of an object at a time.” (Human Behavior in the Social Environment by Anissa Taun Rogers, 2010)
After reading this, I recognized that my child wasn’t always being rude, devious, or defiant. She was acting in a way that is developmentally appropriate. Sure, there are definitely of true defiance in this arena. But in each situation, I must recognize that my child may not have the brain capacity to handle two things at once, such as her imaginary world and my question about milk.
It happens to me too. When my kids are screaming in one ear and an adult is trying to tell me a story in the other, I only hear enough of the story to be completely confused and turn a true story into a tall tale.
So, next time you are trying to get your child’s attention and failing, know that it may not be a discipline problem. It may be that your child can’t focus on two things at once. It may take a face in the hands sort of action to pull them out of their fanciful imaginary world.
So when that tiny thread of remaining patience is about to snap, take a deep breath and consider that it may not be obstinacy, a parenting problem, or an attention issue. It may be centration! Thanks, Jean.