The Circle Line

Time & Attention

When we're just too damn busy it's easy to forget about the impact on our kids.
The everyday can be overlooked, and the impact misunderstood.


Sometimes life throws a lot at us. Work, ageing parents, demanding friends. We all want more time; but what happens when we’re not around for our children?

Absence – whether or emotional or physical – has an impact on all our relationships. Paying attention and spending time with someone is the greatest respect and love we can show someone. How do we know we’re paying enough attention?

How easy to be absent-minded

Human beings are social beings. And children more than anyone need us. They need their parents in order to simply survive and to know they exist: they need to be seen and heard and touched.

“Attachment” is a natural phenomenon necessary to ensure the infant’s survival.

Decades of research has shown that the development of babies will be stunted if they are neglected – that is, if the parent fails to respond sensitively and appropriately to the child’s emotional and practical needs

Great Ormond Street hospital have a team of volunteer cuddlers to hold babies born prematurely so they are not left alone in their cots. Harlow’s famous experiment with monkeys showed how psychologically disturbed primates become when deprived not of food but of their mother’s body – they rock in the corner and pull out their hair.

Children need to be seen, heard and touched. They need this to such an extent that as an infant this is how they know they exist. It’s called mirroring. A parent naturally “mirrors” their child – they reflect or copy their child’s sounds, gestures and facial expressions. This mirroring recognises and validates the infants emotions and experiences – it tells them they exist.

This is how children develop their sense of self.

What to watch out for

A child’s experience of “attaching” to their parents, as babies particularly their mother, forms a powerful blueprint for their future relationships and confidence. The way we experienced our own parents attaching to and caring for us affects the way we raise our own children – So it’s worth digging into.

A degree of “neglect” is common and may have become such a normal part of our own childhood, and perhaps our current relationships, that we don’t notice when we don’t notice our kids.

1. Lack of looking

When we’re so busy “doing” other things it can be easy not to notice when we don’t do the simplest thing a child needs – look at them.

It’s easy to miss the details – when they do something new perhaps, or when they look sad – but the details matter.

Children need to be seen. This is not spoiling them. It is a basic human need and a sign of connection.

2. Lack of listening

When a child makes themselves known we may literally fail to hear them – we may give zero response, or as they learn more language we think we are listening but their words or meaning don’t seem to sink in.

In this way we inadvertently dismiss them – and you might see some of the following occurring:

Of course, we all fail to listen sometimes. We’re only human. It’s a question of degree and frequency.

Children need to be heard. Humans are unique in their ability to use complex language – and children are still learning. They need to practice and they have a right to use their voice and for it to be heard.

3. Lack of touching

Holding and stroking is necessary for babies to survive.

Together with other forms of recognition – your eyes, words and facial expressions – touch is one of the most powerful connections your child can experience.

How do you show them affection and make them feel safe?

How often?

4. Lack of freedom

Children need choice – that is they need to be allowed to do what they want to do in the way they want to do it – whilst you pay attention and show approval. When we’re busy it can be easy to want to take charge, “get things done” and get them done quickly.

But children need a say too. If you don’t allow them freedom of choice, appropriate to their age, they may struggle to make autonomous decisions as they mature. The blueprint is set in childhood (and undone as adults in therapy…).

Does it matter if a child isn’t doing something “right”? Is it dangerous? If not… can you let them be free this time? Can you let them decide?

Letting them be them in their own unique way is a great gift to a child. To do anything else implies they’re not good enough.


Spotting the small everyday absences can be tricky – but it’s important. These little behaviours may seem invisible but to a little person they are huge. We’re here to help.

Working with a professional to identify and work through your attachment style and patterns is extremely useful as a parent. If you are interested – speak with one of our therapists today.

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