The Power of Specific Attention


Written by Regine Galanti

Many of the parents who walk into my office have a single complaint: They want their children to listen. They might be trying to help their child with problems at school, oppositional behavior, or even anxiety, but parents often articulate that getting their child to obey and respect their commands is a primary goal for treatment.

My response is always the same: to focus on giving children more attention. Before we implement any strategies for obeying commands, design a behavior chart, or plan exposures, we work on strengthening the parent-child relationship, mainly through giving children the right kind of social reinforcement, or effective attention.

Let’s start with a basic behavioral principle from Psych 101: behavior that gets rewarded is likely to be repeated.  This means that any behavior that a parent notices and responds to is likely to be repeated. Paying focused attention to your children therefore gives you a valuable tool: it’s a chance to notice what they’re doing right, and tell them so.

Picture this scenario:

Sarah, age 4, and Jonathan, age 6, are coloring nicely at the table. As a parent, you think about commenting on how nicely they’re playing, but then realize that you want to send an email, and you’re nervous that your comment might interrupt the flow of play, and you won’t get your five minutes of alone time.

Staying away from the table might be the easier in the moment, but you would lose out on a fantastic opportunity: the chance to catch the kids being good! Think back to that basic principle of reinforcement: this is an opportunity to reward Sarah and Jonathan for cooperative play using another valuable tool in your parenting toolbox: praise.

Now you’ve caught your children doing what you want them to do, how do you reward them so that they’ll repeat the positive behaviors again in the future? Here’s where the importance of being specific in your attention comes in. To return to our example above, Mom turns to Sarah and Jonathan, noticing how nicely they’re playing together, attends to them, and tells them, “Great job!” They’ll probably feel good – we know that praise boosts self-esteem – but will they know what they did right? Is mom happy because of the picture they colored? Did she like the way they were sitting, or the way that they playing nicely with each other? Just saying “great job” doesn’t make any of this clear. Therefore, When you catch a child being good, make meaningful, descriptive and specific statements about which behavior you’d like to see repeated. This allows a child to know exactly what the parent is looking for, and repeat it in the future. So, instead of “great job,” try, “I love when you two share crayons with each other,” or “I love when you play nicely with each other.”

Set yourself and your child up for success by setting aside five minutes a day for playtime, so that you can pay attention to their positive behaviors in a specific way. This will allow parents the opportunity to notice good behaviors, and comment on them using specific praises. If you consistently give children specific, meaningful praise for good behavior, you will begin to notice behavior change. Children naturally crave their parents’ approval, and providing focused attention and specific praise to constructive behaviors is the first step towards establishing a solid foundation for discipline and a positive parent-child relationship.

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Calmer in the Face of Hardship
I came to the Center for Anxiety for help in dealing with a family member who suffered from extreme anxiety. But I ended up getting a serious illness two months later and started having my own sessions. With the help of my therapist I got through my illness, learned to understand my habits that were making my major life stresses worse, learned to communicate better, taper my anger, and surprisingly I became more calmer even though my hardships in life worsened. Therapy is a lot of work and not easy, but nothing in life comes easy! I became a better and softer mom and (when I practice what I learned) and my kids and home are calmer and happier. I am still a work in progress and have more to work on, but I know I am on the right path. I wish I knew before how my communication style and anger were really impacting my life, how being softer you can accomplish way more then being harsh. I have been to other therapists in the past and I can hands down say that the Center for Anxiety’s approach is really effective. I have even referred a bunch of people to the Center and they have been really happy with the therapists and how much they really care for their patients.
I Tackled a Long List of Fears
When I first came to the Center for Anxiety, my list of anxieties/fears was long! I was scared of getting sick, getting stranded, driving, flying and more. With the help of my therapist, I immediately got to work and tackled every one of my fears. Now the world is open to me and I feel free! I can dream big and accomplish whatever I set my mind to! I am especially grateful that I was able to do all this without having to rely on medication. It was hard work – grueling at times! – but now I have the coping tools within me for life. In fact a family member recently said to me “You are awesome. You can accomplish anything you set your mind to because you don’t let fear stop you! ” Thank you Dr. Rosmarin and the Center for Anxiety staff for helping me get here. My fears no longer limit me and I love my life. Try it, it might turn your life around too!
Highly Skilled and Professional Treatment
When I sought treatment at the Center for Anxiety, the clinic was is in its incipient stages. However, by the time I successfully finished treatment, the Center for Anxiety grew and flourished into a world-class treatment center, offering cutting-edge, evidence-based treatment to countless individuals. The continued success of the Center for Anxiety comes as no surprise to me, with a team that contains such highly skilled professionals who display clinical acumen, empathy, and compassion. When I first entered treatment I was concerned that therapy would be similar to the experiences with past psychologists: a seemingly bottomless pit with no reductions in my anxiety symptoms, but was so relieved when I started to feel less anxious after only a handful of sessions. My therapist created a treatment plan that was tailored exactly to my needs and taught me practical skills to help me work through my anxiety that I still use and practice to this very day.
No More Panic
When I first came in, I was struggling with panic disorder and didn’t even know it, which only made dealing with it that much more difficult. After my first time sitting down with my therapist, however, I instantly started to gain perspective and look at the difficult situation in a different light. Our meetings helped me conquer the issue step by step and get my life back on track. I’d strongly recommend that anyone dealing with anxiety in a way that impacts their day to day life should visit the Center for Anxiety! I know it helped me tremendously.
Free of Obsessions
When I woke up one morning last June and didn’t want to get out of bed, I knew I needed help. The thought of getting through another day with all my anxieties, obsessions and rituals was just too overwhelming. After feeling stuck for years, I just couldn’t anymore. Thankfully, that’s when I found the Center for Anxiety. Dr. Rosmarin and his staff are experts at what they do, kind and professional. After just several weeks I accomplished my initial targets. The change I experienced in such a short amount of time was astounding that I stayed on for a while longer to work on more complex goals. I soon achieved those too. Now, I am free of my obsessions, know how to manage my anxiety, and love my life. My only regret: not having done this sooner. I wish I had known that you don’t have to wait to hit rock bottom to get help.
Depression Lifted
I’m 26 years old and I’ve been suffering from terrible depression for 7 years. In the throws of my sadness I literally wanted to die. Soon after starting therapy at the Center for Anxiety, my depression lifted. My suicidal thoughts began to dissipate. I remember the feeling that came over me as soon as the dark cloud above me left. It was the most liberating feeling I have ever experienced. I actually shouted to my friends, family and anyone nearby me “I’m Happy! I am Happy!” I felt free.
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Over the course of four years I developed anxiety-like symptoms (tightness in chest, gut, back) that slowly but surely increased in duration and severity. The EXTREMELY uncomfortable nature of the symptoms notwithstanding, I still continued and managed to function. The effort required to do so, however, left me utterly drained. Having always been a very spiritual person I strongly felt that a course of therapy incorporating a spiritual component could potentially work well for me and decided to give the Center for Anxiety a try. Happily, I have achieved significant symptom reduction, tremendously improved emotional/mental health, and above all, Connection. Medication free. I’m no longer just existing, I’m LIVING. I’ve been given a second chance to become the unique human being that I was meant to be.
No More worries
I have wormed in healthcare for 36 years in many different settings, and I have been overwhelmingly satisfied with the Center for Anxiety. When staff says they are going to call, I get a call. From the first contact, I have been very impressed with the professionalism and efficiency. I had a situation and needed to have sessions more than once per week, and my clinicians worked out a schedule to accommodate my needs. I was astounded that they attended to me so quickly and effectively - they made my priority their priority. My clinicians were also excellent at what they do - they have a plan for me each session, and it's clear that they have thought in advance about each session, and that they are listening to what I say and observing what I do, even though our sessions have been conducted via Telehealth. Compassion is a quality that I have all too often found to be lacking in my experiences as a healthcare professional and patient, and this is not the case with the Center for Anxiety. Of all the websites I found on Google, I am so thankful that God guided my hand to yours.
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