“Grandpa, Look at me put my head under water.”
“Grandma, watch what I can do on my rope swing”
“Grandpa, come and see me hit the ball.”
Whether it’s demonstrating a newly-acquired athletic basketball skill in shooting hoops or turning somersaults in the backyard, children naturally like an audience. They love to show off some reading or musical ability or proudly display a prized possession, like that warty toad found in Grandma’s vegetable garden. Earlier this month, how many of us closely scanned a visiting grandchild’s report card while our little one (and their parents) stood beaming with pride of accomplishment?
The need to be noticed certainly doesn’t end with childhood. Watch teenagers on our local soft, sandy beach. Boys strut and pose while playing volleyball; the girls join them and demonstrate a skill level which surprises the lads, or perhaps the young ladies choose to stroll casually along the shore, glancing occasionally over a shoulder to see if they are being noticed by those same young male athletes.
As a gangly, hormone-driven 16 year old on my family farm, I spent many early mornings before the school day started, playing on our front hay field. With a guy friend, i had invented some crazy version of a hockey/soccer game. At 8 am we could be found batting around a well-worn, semi-inflated rubber ball with barn brooms, trying to score goals against one another while shouting battle cries of attack. These dramatic sounds were required if we hoped to attract the attention and admiration of Joan, a pretty, grade nine girl who lived on the property adjacent to our field of manly combat.
In retrospect, I eventually realized with some embarrassment that, naturally, Joan was not staring out her window fascinated by our prowess, while her frazzled mom vainly tried to redirect her attention to the corn flakes and toast sitting on their breakfast table. Joan was busily preparing for school. She took no notice of those foolish boys across the fence or, even worse, if she did, it was likely with scornful indifference.
Admittedly, some children or adolescents lack that boldness or self-confidence which leads to “showing-off.” Yet, inwardly, they also long to be recognized. In fact, I would suggest this innate need to be noticed is a requisite for good mental health and a sense of emotional well-being. How is this trait demonstrated in adulthood? Let’s start with three less-effective examples:
As a young working man, my first full-time, real pay-cheque was quickly followed by my first new car purchase. I assumed that this acquisition would result in my being noticed each time I drove past young women. I was not! Even if I evoked some admiration, it would be the car, not Bob, who would be the object of attention.
The problem with trying to find recognition and affirmation through material possessions—Gucci handbags and BMW sports cars—is that such attention is conditional on our being able to attain these objects. Once they are gone, so is our sense of self-worth.
Other adults rely on physical beauty to be noticed; that too is a fleeting source of valuation as many older Hollywood actresses have sadly discovered.
A third unproductive means of being recognized is simply through bragging about our accomplishments. While perhaps initially interesting, constant and desperate boasting usually leads to our being tuned out or avoided. For most adults, what are some valid pathways to secure good mental and emotional health? From at least one person in our life:
—we need to have our talents, abilities and achievements recognized and appreciated, not ignored
—we need to have our emotions heard and accepted without being judged
—we need to have our ideas and dreams listened to with respect, not dismissal.
—we need to be held, not only hand-shaken or hugged.
Even grandparents have a need to be noticed and affirmed. In an ideal world, my grandkids would listen with rapt attention as I babbled endlessly about “When I was your age …”
In reality, as grandparents, perhaps the best we can hope for when we need to be recognized by our visiting little ones is:
“Tommy, watch Grandpa while I fumble with this remote.”
“Jenny, see Grandma as she tries to find her glasses.”
“Hey kids, look at me while I take my pills.”
I guess sometimes any attention is better than no attention.