Parents: what's your take on what I think I observe as slow response to children?

When in the company of families in public, I often get the impression that parents react differently to being addressed by their children than to being addressed by their partners or other adults:
Adult1: Firstname?
Adult2: Yes?
Adult1: (voices question, request, etc)


Child: Mommy?
Parent: -
Child Mommy?
Parent: -
Child: Mommy?
Parent: -
Child: MOMMY!
Parent: Yes?
Child: (voices question, request, “look-what-I-can-do”, etc)
What’s the take of parents to this?

I can think of

  • this is not in fact a valid observation.
  • parents need to tune out their children, to some extent, absent a true emergency, to keep their sanity
  • parents do this in order to condition their children to not automatically expect immediate attention the moment they want it.

Not being a parent myself, I have nothing to add except that I observed this frequently when I used to lifeguard. My take on it was closest to “parents need to tune out their children, to some extent, absent a true emergency, to keep their sanity.” Also, I think parents were especially inclined to think of this particular situation (hanging out at the pool in their own apartment complex) as “me time” (Parent lays out and relaxes, kids go play in lifeguard-supervised pool).

::sigh:: I am sure that some ancient hieroglyphs somewhere depict kids doing that mommy, Mommy, MOMMY thing and the mommy with a headache.

When you’re a parent, it’s also pretty easy to tell by the tone the difference between “hey, watch this/sibling stole my toy” and “my head’s wedged in the fence”. 99 times out of 100, it’s the former, and warrants a more lackadaisical response. If you were to give an immediate response to the former every time, the number of instances of them would be even more insufferable.

It just helps space out the questions a little. Children’s questions expand to fill all available time, so you have to slow down the delivery. Otherwise you have:

Child: Question?
Parent: Answer.
Child: Question?
Parent: Answer.
Child: Question?
Parent: Answer.
Child: Question?
Parent: Answer.
Child: Question?
Parent: Kill spree.

I think you’ll find that it’s often a learning experiece. Children must be taught the etiquette of social interaction. The child wants attention, the parent explains the need to wait for acknowledgment. The next time the child demands attention, the parent ignores the child for a few seconds hoping the child will remember, when they don’t the parent explains again. This often take many repetitions before the child gets it. Maybe there are better methods, but this one seems quite popular.

There’s also the multiple children factor – if the child in question has other siblings that are currently being attended to or need supervision.

Ignoring a child’s entreaties usually leads to escalation, though, not suppression. I still remember one incident in a mostly empty subway station one evening, with a Hispanic woman sitting on the same bench as me with two children, a baby girl in a stroller and a 3-year-old boy who was playing with a toy.

The mother was doing something baby-related – putting away bottles, getting a bottle out, checking the diapers, whatever – when the boy said quietly, almost as a whisper, “Mama, mirame” (look at me).

She didn’t seem to have heard him, and after a few seconds, he said it again, more loudly: “Mama, mirame!” She continued ignoring him while fussing with the baby’s gear, and the boy began pestering her: “Mira, mama, mirame, mira!” Then he stopped, and there was silence. At least 10 seconds long. No exasperated comments from the mother, and no excited demonstration of whatever the boy wanted to show her either.

I had been reading a book on the other end of the bench, but the sudden silence seemed so abnormal I took note of it and glanced over. The boy was red in the face from having drawn just about as much breath as he could possibly hold in his lungs at one time, in preparation for screaming…


It echoed along the empty station and the mother just about jumped out of her chair. It was hilarious.

Both of these.

As a mother I could tell if by their tone if it was a “Mommy?” look at me twirl or a “Mommy?” I have to go to the bathroom or a “Mommy?” my hair is on fire.

I don’t think I ever consciously ignored my children when they asked a question in the hope of teaching them patience it is just sort of worked out that way.

The times I don’t respond to my kid immediately are usually when he’s interrupting a conversation or my mind is otherwise engaged.
Generally, though, I try to answer him right away.

I agree that it’s both of the last two, however I’m trying to stop doing it myself. Why? Because last night I realized my daughter (2) is starting to do it back. That is, she’s emulating me, so when I say, “Put the glasses down,” she’s allowing herself to ignore me. “Put them down…Caileigh, put the glasses down…DAMMIT, CAILEIGH! PUT DOWN THE GLASSES!!!” And *then *she looks at me, slightly startled, and puts down the eyeglasses. Grr.

But can I blame her, really? After all, I’ve taught her that it’s okay to ignore the first few requests.

Since I don’t want to have to yell before I’m listened to, I’m trying to stop doing that to her. She may not get my full attention right away, but at the very least a “Just a moment, Caileigh, let me finish this and then I’ll look at you,” is a much more polite response.

Conversation is another matter. There she does have to learn to wait her turn. But here’s the thing I often observe: parents will tell the child “Daddy’s talking right now, wait your turn, please,” and then never go back to the child! This isn’t teaching conversational turn-taking, it’s teaching the kid that they are far less interesting than this other conversational partner. No wonder they get anxious and start whining. They know “their turn” is not likely to come unless they press the issue.

Not responding to someone calling you is just rude. Unless you want to raise a rude child, it’s simple to say “I’m talking to someone else right now. Can it wait a few minutes? Are you bleeding? Is something on fire? No? Then let me finished this conversation first. Okay?”

In the library, I have noticed that my co-workers who have children invariably simply do not hear the loud talking, louder talking, and occasional* screaming of children. And I don’t mean that I don’t notice them reacting and therefore assume that they don’t hear it. I mean I will ask “I wonder what the problem with that child is,” and the co-workers in question will respond with “What child?”

Therefore, I am forced to conclude that parents simply make themselves deaf to children’s voices to a certain extent.

*“occasional,” in this case, means “frequent”

Yup. Ignoring your kids is penny-wise and pound-foolish. It may buy you a minute or two before they escalate to screaming but it teaches them that the best way to get someone’s attention is to scream.

My wife and I try to always answer our kids as promptly as possible, as long as:

  1. They’re not interrupting. Otherwise they get told “Daddy is talking right now. Wait until I’m finished.”

  2. They phrase their request politely in a pleasing tone of voice. Otherwise they get told “Can you say that again in a way that makes me WANT to respond to you?”

At first you start with just a minute or please you are interupting, but once they hit a certain age and they come running to interupt you then you wait a few minutes before answering. After a few minutes my children know that they were being rude by interputing.
Yes you can tell by their tone if it is urgent or not.
I have a friend I really don’t like to talk to on the phone because all you can hear in the background is her two children and she is constantly being interupted. In her case it is because they do not have her undivided attention. But then again she is baffled at how well my children behave and let me tell you my children have their moments that’s for sure.
They are at the age they should see she is on the phone and unless the cat is on fire it can wait a few minutes. But yes, make sure you do get back to them and let them know that what they wanted to say or show you is important.
This subject brings to mind a conversation that happened in my van about a year ago. I have three teenagers and three pre-teens, and I’m not a soccer mom but a skater mom and tote around teenagers all over the place. So I’m pretty laid back about some things and my children and I have a strange way of talking to each other that some people are shocked at some times.
I was talking to my oldest daughter in the front seat when my son wanted my attention from the back. After a few Mom, mom’s I said “Just a minute Josh I’m talking to your sister” to which he replied “Mom, mom, Sabrina shut-up…Mom” Everyone in the van busted out laughing. It was one of those moments. It wasn’t said mean or snoty, it was said in the same antsy voice as when he started trying to get my attention.
But on the other hand I do tend to respond to random children in public or the teens at Skatechurch when I hear mom. Sometimes it automatic. I hear mom and answer.
I’ve told my kids I want to change my name from mom to anything else some days. :stuck_out_tongue:

That is something I’ve noticed with my mother and the mothers of some of my friends they don’t always respond to Mom. Normally I try it twice and then I use her real name it works every time. I’ve been doing this since I was about 8. Just recently I was on a houseboat with a friends family and his little sister did the same thing and magically their mom could here her real name. At this point the girl doing it was 18 so it wasn’t a manners thing I just think when there are enough moms around they tune out mom figuring it doesn’t mean them.

At least in one case, I’m pretty sure it was the vain-attempt-at-maintaining-sanity. My SO, I can only imagine, was very demanding of attention as a child (he still likes it!). He’s currently 29, and I have personally witnessed his attempts to get his mother’s attention at, say, the dinner table. It goes something like this:

“Mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom…”

“Huh? Oh, what’s up?”

I doubt that there is a single, simple answer.

I do not recall ever simply ignoring my kids. However, there were different situations that got different responses.

Young child walks up and interrupts adult conversation at a pause in the talking:
Young child walks up and interrupts adult conversation without waiting for a break:
Finish sentence (or let other adult finish sentence, then: “Child, you need to wait your turn.”
Older child walks up and interrupts adult conversation without waiting for a break:
Finish sentence (or let other adult finish sentence, then: “Child, we talked about this before the visit/party/whatever. You need to take your turn and not interrupt people who are talking.”

In each of the latter situations, the kid might have been running a string of “daddydaddydaddy…” calls while the adult’s sentence was being completed. I do not consider that “ignoring” the child.

I would agree that simply acting as though the child was in Antarctica while s/he tugs at one’s sleeve and begs for attention is being more than a bit passive aggressive toward the kid, but that is not always how it plays out. (And, of course, the perception of the adult when waiting for a break in the conversation can be radically different from the perception of the child or the perception of another adult who has not been going through the attempt to get kids to interrupt at appropriate points and not on their own self-obsessed terms.)

I agree with you on everything except one thing - I wouldn’t say “Okay?” at the end of it. Too much room for argument. :wink:

This is almost exactly what I do with my high school students.

“Is there blood or fire? No? Then it can probably wait until I’m done with Angela here.”

My ex-Army officer brother has his 4-year old trained to just tap and say, “Excuse me, Uncle David,” when I’m talking to an adult. Then I can either pay attention, or say, “Just a minute, Jay, I’m talking here.” It’s such a relief from other brats I see. I do then talk to him, and of course, it’s some trivial 4-year old thing about a ball or something, but it’s important to him.

This all somehow reminds me of how a security guard got a bit irritated with me when I didn’t know who Richard Christianson was. He got a more bit contrite when he realized I was serious, and I was standing next to Kristin Richardson. Ha!

Same brother mentioned above asked me not to say, “OK?” at the end of directions: “We’re going to eat lunch, pack up, and take you to the barber, ok?” He wasn’t interested in hearing arguments about it;, the kid was getting a haircut.

sometimes a conversation goes like this…


“umm, I, um…” scampers off

after about a thousand interactions like that a person might just find themselves a little less quick to respond.