I have been teaching Sunday school for about six months now. Since I am very interested in psychology, I couldn’t help but wonder about the effect that attention (or lack of attention) has on a child’s self-esteem.
There are some children in my class who talk a lot and some who talk very little. Guess which ones I pay attention to more?
You guessed it – the loud ones; the ones who bring a smile to my face by saying funny things; the ones who express interest in spending time with me. I do try to talk to the quieter kids an equal amount but it’s just too easy to become focused on the kiddos who are interactive.
I bet this happens in many classrooms, and while it’s OK to read signals and not pester kids who don’t want to engage, these kids yearn for recognition too. How do I know? Because I was one of them. I was the quiet kid. The one who didn’t want to draw attention to myself yet wanted to be loved and recognized. I was stuck with the choice of becoming someone who I was not or being ignored.
I try to make the quiet kids feel special and loved, but I wonder if they notice how much more attention I pay to the louder kids, and I wonder if that makes them wish they were loud too – not because they enjoy talking but because they think it will make people love them more.
Now that I am on the opposite side of things, I have a new perspective on what attention really means because it means something different to the recipient than it does to the giver. The giver often lends attention to those who are easiest to pay attention to, not necessarily those they love more. The recipient, on the other hand, receives attention as a form of love and the lack of attention as a form of rejection.
As a recipient with this same distorted thinking, I have falsely believed that I need to be more talkative because outgoing people are more lovable. In reality, my peers are really no different than frazzled preschool teachers desperately trying to love 13 children at once.
What then is the answer? We can’t control how people interpret attention/lack of attention and it’s extremely difficult to equally distribute your attention among those you want to show love.
I’m not even sure my theory is correct. Maybe the quiet kids don’t care about attention, and maybe it won’t affect their adult life, but for the sake of shy people everywhere, I am going to talk to my shy kids more. And while I’m at it, maybe I’ll talk to shy people more in general – not because attention is the only form of love but because it can send a powerful message no matter the intent.