When your child is a lantern, and you are a spotlight…

[Read a previous post on: Coby’s Story During The Resilient Reader Program]

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about attention lately. How to keep it, how to use it, how to stop checking if I got a new text while I’m typing this blog.. 

In my reading, I learned a term for something we have all experienced with us and with our children- spotlight attention and lantern attention.  

If you’ve ever heard your child repeat something back that you said when you thought they weren’t listening- in another room, while they were playing, in a quiet voice- congratulations! You’ve seen the power of a child’s lantern attention.

Research shows humans have two types of attention. There’s lantern attention which children have, and spotlight attention, which we gain slowly over time between ages 6-15. 

As adults, we have spotlight attention- we focus on one thing, and one thing only, until we switch tasks to focus on something else. If your partner ever tried to tell you something as you type a text back to a friend, and you mis-typed the text and missed what your partner said, you’ve seen your spotlight attention in action! Some of us think that we can multitask, but the reality is that we can task-switch quickly. We go from tab to tab, or from listening to the podcast to filling out that form quickly, but we can only focus on one of these things at a time. It’s very hard for us to perceive what’s happening around us if we’re focused on what’s in front of us, and vice-versa.

Children have lantern attention. Evolutionarily, it’s been extremely important for a child to know where the adults are at all times. From babyhood, children are taught to depend on us deeply, and know they wouldn’t be safe, fed, housed, or comfortable without the adults who care for them. Their ability to pay attention to multiple things happening at once is a trait that has evolved with us, allowing kids to ensure their caregivers are ok, and that therefore they’ll be ok. 

This is why a child playing in another room will perk up when you stub your toe, or when you’re telling your spouse about the hard day you had. They’re hard-wired to pay attention to everything that’s happening around them to ensure their own survival. 

In the Resilient Reader program, we learn to use a child’s amazing ability for lantern attention to build up their sense of resilience. With a few shifts, we can almost tap into a child’s subconscious by purposefully discussing tricky subjects with other adults, without speaking directly to the child. There’s so much to this that I’m happy to discuss further! 


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