Don’t pick up your baby when they cry. They just want attention.
Don’t comfort a tantrum. They just want attention.
Don’t give in to whining. They just want attention.
Don’t do things for your child that you know they can do themselves. They just want attention.
Anyone would think attention was an illicit drug. Everyone be on the lookout for kids trying to score some!
But attention is not a luxury to be rationed out. Nor is it something to be afraid of. Attention is something we all need.
“We are wired for connection. It’s in our biology. From the time we are born, we need connection to thrive emotionally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually.” –Brene Brown
People need to be seen, to be valued, to be heard, to be acknowledged, to be accepted. People need attention.
So who really has the problem here? Children expressing a perfectly natural biological need for attention, or adults using their attention as a tool to wield power?
Hopefully, you know the answer.
What to do when your child wants attention…
Challenge your conditioning
“Too often, our socialization—which has fear at its center—doesn’t allow us to observe a situation from a neutral perspective and so we miss critical information.” -Teresa Graham Brett, Parenting for Social Change
We were conditioned to parent based on fear. We must control children, lest they do the wrong thing. We can’t show them too much love or consideration, for fear they may become entitled. But is this any way to treat a person?
What if your partner always expected the worst of you and controlled all your choices so you wouldn’t do the wrong thing? What if they rationed out their attention dependent on if your behaviour pleased them? What if they used their love and affection as currency to get you to do what they wanted? That doesn’t sound like a healthy relationship and it’s certainly not one I want to model for my kids.
The truth is, we were sold a lie. Children are not inherently bad or out to take advantage. They are humans, trying to make sense of the world, wanting to connect with you, and doing the best they can. And sometimes that’s hard! Especially when you’re thrown into a world that literally encourages parents to ignore their children’s cries, and as they grow further ignore their bids for attention.
Challenge your conditioning. This is no way to treat people. Children are people, and if this kind of treatment would not be acceptable in any other relationship, chances are it’s not ok for them either. The parent-child relationship is not some kind of magical alternate universe where those with greater power can treat others poorly and expect that it won’t be damaging.
Listen to what they’re communicating
All behaviour is communication. If a child is engaging in what people describe as ‘attention seeking’ behaviours, then they are clearly communicating a need. The need for attention. It could be for any number of reasons and it’s our job to work it out.
When someone has a need, we listen, we care, and we help them meet their needs in ways we are able.
What is your child communicating? What do they need?
“Every day, in a 100 small ways, our children ask, ‘Do you hear me? Do you see me? Do I matter?’ Their behavior often reflects our response.” – L.R. Knost
Meet their needs
If a child wants attention, then give them attention. Attention is a legitimate need.
Play with them, laugh with them, comfort them. Show them that they matter.
“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” – Simone Weil
You can’t spoil someone with too much attention or acknowledgement.
Forget about bad habits and manipulation
What about when children ask for attention in negative ways? Still, meet their needs.
Forget about the warnings. Forget about ‘bad habits’ and ‘manipulation‘. If a child really is choosing to do the wrong thing just to get attention then what does that tell you? They are desperate and doing whatever they can to get their needs met. Maybe they believe this is the best way to gain attention because they have learnt their genuine needs will not be met.
So give them what they need. Show them they don’t have to resort to this just to get the attention they need. Show them that love and attention are freely given.
“Why do children manipulate? To get the parent to do what the child wants or needs. Why do parents manipulate? To get the child to do what the parent wants or needs. When we want someone to do something that she or he might be reluctant to do, we may resort to manipulation if we feel powerless to achieve our needs in another way. But because our cultural double-standard means that we view a child’s behavior differently than an adult’s, we condemn her behavior and rationalize our own.” -Teresa Graham Brett, Parenting for Social Change
Fill their bucket
Fill your child up with all the love, connection, and attention they need regularly. Recognise that different children need different amounts as well as different types of attention. Find what is uniquely meaningful to them!
Attention is not something to withhold or ration. It is a legitimate need.
So what should you do when a child wants attention?
Give it to them.