Look At Me! Relating to Elementary Schoolers When Their World is a Stage

To hang with a room full of elementary-aged kids, you need just one thing: a head with eyes on all sides.  

Easy enough, right?  

If by some chance you’ve got just two lookers like the rest of us, you may find yourself struggling to keep up with all the requests for attention. After all, elementary schoolers love to be seen.  

Even the needs of just one little darling can seem a bit much for busy adults, often pulled in every direction by the demands of life.  

Still, developmental stages exist for a reason. A first grader will ask for your eyes because the way you see him–or don’t see him–teaches him how to view himself. And that’s an opportunity we don’t want you to miss!  

So, today we’re bringing a few actionable ideas for embracing the “Look at me!” phase in your church group or in your home.  

Make “Yes!” Your Default Response. 

We get it. Volunteers can’t promise twenty minutes to each kid in a classroom, and parents can’t pull away from important tasks every time a kid comes knocking. But you can decide now to say yes to requests for attention in a way that works for you. Your yes might look like: 

  • “Of course, I’d love to see what you built! I can take a quick break now; so, let’s go look!”
  • “I can’t leave what I’m working on, but maybe you can bring your artwork over here?”
  • “Absolutely, I want to see your new dance! Give me five minutes and I’ll be right there!” 

Saying yes when you can will also make kids more receptive to times when you need to say no.  

Put Away Your Phone.  

Noticing kids comes easier when we’re not so distracted. And, while smartphones are a fact of life at this point–and a welcome one at that–our relationships fare better face-to-face without ‘em. Thankfully, you don’t have to go crazy for this action to count.  

Clinical Psychologist Dr. Katie Penry recommends, through her Lookup Challenge, for parents to designate a few spots as phone-free. You might choose to leave your phone at home whenever you visit the park, in your pocket during small group sessions, or in the bedroom while you eat dinner as a family.  

Train yourself to remain committed to a few phone-free locations and watch how your undivided attention lights up the faces of the young ones in your life.  

Keep a Few Key Prompts at the Ready. 

You can watch kids while they work and play, and they’ll take notice. Say something based on what you see, and your words might just stick around for a lifetime.  

Of course, sincerity matters. Kids can sniff out poor attempts at flattery; and when they do, they’ll be less likely to trust your compliments in the future. Instead, consider this an opportunity to speak positive truth as often and as honestly as possible. You might say: 

  • “I’ve noticed the way you . . .” 
  • “It makes me so proud when I see you . . .” 
  • “I hope you know . . .” 
  • “I love how much fun you’re having when you . . .” 
  • “My favorite thing about spending time with you is . . .” 
  • “I know I can always count on you to . . .”  

Your words, as they pile up on top of one another, act as a dose of reality against bullying, peer pressure, and internal doubts that pop up as kids move from kindergarten to fifth grade.  

Worried you might be missing the mark? Here’s a true test for you: Consider how often the elementary-aged kids in your home or church group act out.  

You might be quick to blame bad behavior on anything but you–after all, kids need to take responsibility for their actions. And, in some cases, you’ll probably be right. Still, research shows that kids prefer negative attention (think time-outs and consequences) over no attention at all.  

If this seems to be the case with your little one, revisit the tips above. Give a few more hugs, turn your eyes toward your child, and validate his worth at every turn. These small, loving actions might just do the trick.

This content was contributed by Phase. Discover all the resources available for your elementary schooler in the Phase store.