When you hear the phrase attention deprived babies, what do you think? If you are like most people, your imagination conjures up stark images of abandoned babies in a large, colorless room filled with row upon row of cribs in an overseas orphanage or the dirty, half-naked, dark-skinned babies from Third World countries depicted in the heart wrenching Send Money Now infomercials on TV. Maybe you imagine the tear-stained face of a tiny, two-year old little girl standing in the doorway of her filthy apartment who is destined to live the same impoverished life as her four older siblings and their 26 year-old mother.
As pitiful as these images are, I don’t just think about those kids anymore. It’s from personal experience that I’ve become a little more jaded and increasingly aware of what attention-deprived can also mean. Let me share a specific scenario I witnessed a few weeks ago.
After spending the previous hour wiping a kid’s green, runny nose during my last appointment as a pediatric speech-language pathologist, I decided that hand washing may not have been enough to fend off yet another cold this year. As I was driving and thinking that I absolutely could not get sick right before Christmas, I spotted a Walgreen’s just ahead on the right.Great!I could make a quick stop, and then be on the way to see my next kiddo.Just as I was about to pull into the parking lot, a huge (Did I mention HUGE?) black SUV veered right in from of me to enter the shopping center.This woman, talking on her cell phone, was oblivious to the fact she had nearly caused an accident.Before I could even collect myself enough to park, she had whirled into the only empty spot near Walgreen’s, slung open her door, jumped down from her vehicle, sprinted over to the opposite rear passenger side, and yanked out a baby carrier covered by a pink blanket.
Oh I felt a little guilty for all the mean thoughts I’d had about her in the last 10 seconds since she had nearly killed me.She wasn’t a dangerous, maniac driver.This woman was a new, anxious mother, and she had jeopardized all of our lives for a good reason.She needed to get her sick baby some medicine.
I will forgive her, I thought, as I grabbed my purse, clicked the lock, and continued to watch her as we both headed into the store.She was well-dressed in her black, stylish shawl, dark jeans, and high-heeled boots.To my surprise, she did not walk straight back to the pharmacy.She stopped to glance at the Christmas decorations, still chatting away on her phone and carrying her covered car seat.Maybe she’s looking for something else before she gets her prescription, I surmised.Then I heard it, the muffled whimper of a baby.
Usually I am in such a hurry during my own errands that I don’t analyze the behaviors of every mother I encounter.I probably have dismissed hundreds of sobbing babies while in stores in my lifetime.Babies fuss; it’s a fact of life.But on this particular day, in this particular store, it struck my attention.
I decided to pause and look at the wrapping paper myself.Patterns of Santa, snowmen, and The Grinch couldn’t divert my awareness from the mother and the covered seat.Did she even notice that her baby had now begun to cry? The display didn’t hold the mother’s interest either, since she moved on now casually laughing into her phone and lugging the baby as she rounded the corner.
By now I could hear the baby earnestly crying from the next aisle over.I paused and waited before continuing on myself.Will she think I’m stalking her, I wondered.No way, I answered myself. She didn’t notice that she had nearly slaughtered me with her black death-machine less than five minutes ago. I followed this woman and her wailing baby up and down several rows of the store.She did not once act as if she noticed me, an obviously disturbed woman, hot on her boot-clad heels.How could she?She was on a mission to complete her own errands.Turns out she needed box of Kleenex and Glade Plug-Ins, both of which she carefully placed on top of the pink blanket, still covering the car seat.In case you’re wondering, yes, the baby was still crying, however, not as loudly.And yes, she remained on her cell phone, all the way through her trek to the cash register.
Somehow I maintained my wits about me and managed to grab the Purell.I now stood beside her as she swiped her card for the purchase and then gathered her bag.She glanced at me, and then ended her call with a quick, I gotta go.Finally, I thought.Maybe my indignation is showing.Maybe she’s knows what I’m thinking about her.Now at last she’s going to acknowledge her child who has tried to gain her attention for the last 10 minutes or so.I looked down toward the baby carrier, so I could get a quick glimpse of the baby myself.To my surprise the blanket remained intact.Turns out, my judgmental look and the continuing complaints from her child weren’t enough to get this mother’s attention after all.Just as I looked up, she turned way, and I felt the breeze as she threw her fabulous shawl back over shoulder.Without pausing to thank the cashier, apologize to me for nearly slapping me in the face with the corner of her shawl, or without even a shhhh for her crying baby, she breathily uttered Hello to her next caller as she walked through the sliding doors.
This is the world we now live in.In upper middle class, east-end Louisville, KY, where expensive birthday parties, fancy private schools, and horse-riding lessons are the norm rather than the exception, children are attention deprived.Why?So a stay-at-home mom can keep in touch with her friends as she whisks through her errands.So a distracted dad can check his e-mail 24/7 from his Blackberry while he babysits. So we can see the latest shows from our 300+ cable channels or watch sports the entire weekend.So we can read the latest and greatest information on anything and everything from our laptops while our children roam around underneath our noses looking for something stimulating and worthwhile to do. In this crazy information-driven, chronically connected world of ours, we are losing the most basic, most fundamental connection we’ll ever have the opportunity to make.Parents are too distracted to parent.Many children of educated, middle-class parents are also attention deprived.Just as attention deprived as children forgotten in orphanages in Russia or in mud huts in Africa. Just as attention deprived as when mothers leave their children in the care of an 8-year-old to go out for the evening.No attention because Mommy is on the phone for a series of twenty minute phone calls that add up to the majority of the day is the same as no attention when Mommy is strung out on crack.To a baby who needs consistent attention, it’s the same.Mommy and Daddy are not available.
Research from neuroscientists about the brain tells us that babies need predictable and responsive care from loving parents in their first year to be able to develop the brain wiring that it takes to successfully learn as they grow older.Some parents mistakenly dismiss this time thinking, He’s just a baby, and don’t actually make much of an effort to teach them anything during this phase.They mistakenly think that babies are going to learn just what they need from hanging around the house all day and going from feeding to sleeping to bathing and pick up all they need to know in order to learn how to talk.Others might occasionally take the time by reading a story book here and there or playing peekaboo when they happen to think about it.Research tells us that it takes consistent and repeated actions to help babies learn the foundational skills they need to communicate.Consistent and repeated actions take TIME. Many parents are just too busy and distracted themselves to make the investment.They might spend more time researching their next vacation or even on mundane but necessary things like cleaning the house than they do with direct, purposeful time with their babies.
My advice to parents has come to be that you absolutely must make time to spend with your baby just as you would any other activity you deem important.For some parents this literally means scheduling an hour at some point in their busy day to do nothing but play.For some parents it means purposefully finding several brief 10-15 minute periods of time during the day when they turn off cell phones, lap tops, and televisions and send older siblings to their rooms or outside.
The great news is that it doesn’t take a lot of money beyond the several hundreds of dollars you’ve already invested in the piles of toys you already own.The things that research tells us works to help babies and toddlers learn to talk aren’t rocket science.It’s basically play, but with a language twist.That’s what this web-site is all about.We are dedicated to helping parents learn how to teach kids to talk.But it all starts with making the time.So grab your Palm Pilot, your Daytimer, or whatever other calendar you busy parents use, and get ready to write your kid’s name in it.You and your undivided time and attention are the number one thing your kid needs everyday, for the next 20 years or so.
Sign Up for your
Subscribe to the Podcast in iTunes