The Heart Account
Children get a direct deposit into their heart account when they receive full attention, and they know the difference between full and divided attention. One form fills them up and the other drains them.
I think we can all relate to this.
How often have you felt that the person you’re talking to is not really listening, or that they’re talking at you and not to you?
If you’re with a loved one and you need to be heard - you’ve had a bad day, or you have some difficult news to deal with - how do you feel when you realise you’re talking to yourself?
For children of all ages, it can be hard to speak up sometimes. It only takes one experience of being misunderstood or a bit of uncertainty to make this difficult. As a parent, how can you support your child when they are feeling vulnerable in this way?
The heart account, as Crisp describes it, needs regular attention. Each time a deposit is made it becomes stronger and, conversely, when something takes away from the account, it becomes a little weaker.
So how about the divided or undivided attention? How can we give undivided attention when life is so full of distractions, worries and busyness?
The strange thing is that when we do give undivided attention, time stands still. Try it. If you focus on just the one thing that you are doing, whether it’s reading this, or later, watching the rain or your little one happily playing on the floor, time becomes unimportant. If you manage to focus, being mindful of what it is that you are doing, letting go of the thoughts that try to get in the way of your present activity, you might be surprised at the results.
It’s a kind of mindfulness. And you can apply this to the moments, long or short, which you have with your children. During these time-stopping moments, you will do a really good job of adding positively to the heart account. As a result, you will both feel satisfied and ready to move onto the next activity.
When your daughter comes to you with a stone she found and wants you to take a look, do it. In that moment, it’s the most important thing there is to do. You might feel impolite if you were in the middle of a conversation with someone else, but another adult should be able to understand, if you’re polite and say, ‘excuse me’.
Get down to her level, and really do look. There’s no need to say much - questions are not needed or always helpful. Just acknowledging your daughter and showing that she is the most important person at that precise moment will fill up her heart account to bursting and let her go away again feeling satisfied and warm.
What’s the alternative? How do so many interactions with our children go? Years ago, before I brought the Pikler ways into the classes I run, the children would often become noisy, raucous even, trying to get the attention they so craved. None of us understood. The little boy who hung on his mummy, saying her name over and over until she heard him, would have nothing to say to her when eventually she stopped chatting to listen. He just wanted to be noticed.
Irritation arises easily when we try to multi-task - because that’s what we’re really doing when our attention is divided. It may be true that women are better at multi-tasking than men, but does that mean we should be doing it all the time? Ask any child and they will say not.
In the case of the youngest children - especially babes in arms - it’s as important as ever. At the times when you are with your child to feed them, change a nappy or get them ready for bed, you have a wonderful opportunity to be with them, in every sense of the word. Have you had a busy day or been at work? Now is the time to fill up the heart account. Taking your time to care for your little one in these moments not only fills up their account, but it can do the same for you. After all, we all need this in our lives.
It’s not always possible for us to influence our children’s heart accounts - they come into contact with other people and experiences that we have no control over. But if we work towards filling up the account whenever we get the opportunity, the resilience and strength that go along with this will serve them well when we can’t be there.