Hot Topic: Give more attention, not more gifts


Holiday season is upon us and in the coming weeks your children may be receiving an overload of gifts. But how do you make sure you don’t overindulge your children? Or how do you treat your children without spoiling them?

Babies and children learn from the beginning that doing (or not doing) certain things has a well-defined effect or result. Crying causes Mom or Dad to take them on the shoulder and remaining stubborn causes them to give in. A good report card is rewarded with gifts. At Christmas, Saint Nicholas or their birthday, extra gifts are handed out. Often parents are scolded by other parents or non-parents that they spoil their child too much. But is that really the case? What is the line between just loving your child and really spoiling them.

Giving attention is not spoiling

Let’s reassure you right away: you can never spoil a child with attention. It happens very regularly that parents and those around them sigh that a child asks for attention. The question then is not: do we spoil the child? No, the question is: why does it trigger us, that demand for attention. 

That a young child – and even older children – likes to be carried is a very logical and natural course of events. We as humans are among the carrier mammals, just like koalas, kangaroos and primates. Our young don’t feel safe until they are close to a caring figure, and although they move more widely around us as they get older, they still love to return to that safety. 

This same part of our DNA ensures that children – and by extension people – like to have someone next to them to sleep. As primitive people, we lived in large groups. That was necessary to ensure safety. Although we now live in a safe environment, children’s brains are not yet set up for this. They cannot grasp that perspective yet. So they automatically return to their primal brain, in which they want to feel the safety of the others in order to fall asleep peacefully. And admit it: we also like to sleep next to our partner, don’t we? Why then do we insist that our children learn to sleep alone? 

Cuddling in between also returns to feeling safe. Of course, children can also be very curious and catch those little ears more than you would like sometimes. And yes, it is also nice to catch up with that friend after a long time. One need not exclude the other. 

A child’s demand for attention always has an underlying reason. Is your child tired? Did he hurt himself? Did something startling him or is he not quite comfortable? 

Know that a child – especially a baby/toddler/toddler – is not asking for attention to bully you. Agreements can be made about how you give him that attention. 

You can indicate that it is not nice when your child interrupts you while you are talking. Have him put his hand on your arm, and nod or take his hand so he knows you understand his question. Listen to him when your conversation is over or when you can take a break. Take the child on your lap during your conversation and adjust the subject if necessary. There is a good chance that your child will just start playing again after refueling. 

When you see it like this, you can immediately see the answer to the question “why triggers that demand for attention”. In our current society, we are expected to work against our own DNA on many points. 

Children must be independent as soon as possible, just like refugees, but that is not how we work at all. A child lives according to that deep programming, and many of us feel it pinching, without being able to put our finger on WHAT exactly is pinching. We are so far removed from our own nature that we almost feel guilty whenever we catch a glimpse of it. 

Giving gifts can become spoiling

Unlike attention, you can spoil a child with gifts. Where the child demands attention, it is a demand to meet his needs. In most cases, a material gift does not have an essential need associated with it. 

Is giving gifts out of the question then? No of course not. A gift every now and then is fine. It is mainly about the balance. Getting something can remain a bit magical. When gifts become a habit or obvious, it’s easier to tip over to the other side. But it’s not just black and white here either. Feel what feels right for you.

So overload your child…  

… with attention instead of gifts. If you want to connect (and stay connected) with your child, that attention is important. You give them what they need. You listen to our own human nature. 

The next time someone wonders if it’s all such a good idea to keep a child so close, answer emphatically: YES! It’s the best idea there is!  

Want to receive more free tips and facts? Check out Nathalie her Instagram. She helps parents re-connect with their kids.

This article has been written in collaboration with Nathalie from De Magische Eik

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