The Old Stale Potato Chip Theory


“This kid is driving me nuts; every time I turn around I bump into him!”

Shortly after coming to Parents Anonymous I heard a new term called the “stale potato chip theory.” The facilitator explained it this way, “Children prefer fresh potato chips, but if the only chips they can get are stale, they will take the stale.” She went on to say, “Potato chips are your attention; fresh chips are positive attention and stale chips are the negative attention.” One mother said, “That’s silly, I would wait for my mom to be in a better mood!” Another chimed in, “I don’t think that’s how it works— children are always  looking for attention!” Bingo!

If your son or daughter is constantly getting into trouble at home, interrupting you, irritating you, following you around asking questions and annoying you, then it is highly likely they want and crave  your attention— even negative scolding. This is not limited to younger children but applies to all children of any age.

How can you make sure the children get enough attention? Give lots of vitamin PT or ‘Parent Time.’ With little ones who need more attention you could include them in daily activities like shopping, doing errands and chores, etc. For fun you can read a book together, watch a show and talk about it, do a good deed together, make a snack together, or simply be close and aware. As they mature you will notice the amount of time with you lessens as their world opens up.

School age children do not demand as much of your time but still need a daily dose of vitamin PT. Make a weekly (or daily) appointment to catch up one-on-one, ask what issues are important to them, ask about their interests apart from school, show them affection, let them teach you about their hobbies, get to know who their friends are, learn who their favorite author is or last book read cover-to-cover, continue the nightly bedtime ritual.

Teens usually prefer friends over parents but they still want and need gentle doses of vitamin PT for a healthy parental relationship. Don’t push but look for the right time when they are not as busy with schoolwork, friends and other obligations. Respect the soon-to-be adult child and arrange a time to touch base. Find common ground, a place to share a snack you prepare together or hit a local restaurant for a leisurely meal. Shoot a few hoops or take in a local game. Discuss life-goals, talk about values and get their opinion. Without being judgmental you can learn more about their own views. Reign in your own opinion and keep it positive. Give positive feedback and genuine compliments— “I like your new friend,” “Your driving has improved.”

All positive time spent with children builds on the relationship as children grow, even into adulthood. The time spent nurturing that relationship is time well spent.

Copyright © 2014 Jackie Saulmon Ramirez. All Rights Reserved.

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About Jackie Saulmon Ramirez

Jackie has volunteered for more than twenty years for children and family issues. Currently she writes for parents in the "Reminder" and "Parent Rap" Facebook page. If you are interested in receiving the "Reminder," send her a message.
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