How to Handle Attention-Seeking Kids
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.
Makes perfect sense, but how do you handle this when you need to focus on something, need some space…?
I guess negotiate. It is not how much time you spend with the kids – it is the quality. If you are totally engaged and have meaningful time and satisfy the attention need fully then everyone (you and child) has the energy and desire to do something else. Works with my kids.
Thank you, I’ll try to improve my connection level while together with my son.
Some days, I feel like I never give enough attention and feel overwhelmed as I am an introvert needing to rewire regularly… alone. Anyway, you are right, when the connection is present, everything flows for both.
I’m the same way. I feel so burnt out some days and, at the same time, longing to WANT to play/laugh/hang out with my son. It’s been a little rough the past couple days and it’s breaking my heart..however, it’s an opportunity to learn how to connect 🙂
Dont mean to be a skeptic. I do want to be a calmer, more present parent and I do believe in quality over quantity but my 4yo does manipulate me. He’s different with me than his teachers, day-carer and even daddy. He’s very needy . I’m now working from home and I spend a lot of time with him. I can’t get work done because he just wants to be in the same room as me most of the afternoons. We do afternoons at the park, playground, beach or playdate with friends and neighbours about once every week or 2 wks. I’m now thinking if I need to find a shared office space. If he’s not allowed a treat, he will ask non-stop, and I would explain why he can’t have it, but hasnt stopped him. I get really impatient when he’s like this for some time when I’m trying to work or cook. Is it his age? I’m feel its impossible to expect him to understand reason so I’ve got to be very firm with him.
Ofcourse your child is different with you. Is because he trust you and can be himself around you. You are his primary caregiver and i would be more worried that he isnt the same with his father. What you are discribing is a perfectly normal 4yo. Why wouldnt he want to be in the same room as you? You are his mother.
“If he’s not allowed a treat, he will ask non-stop, and I would explain why he can’t have it, but hasnt stopped him.”
“I’m feel its impossible to expect him to understand reason so I’ve got to be very firm with him.”
It’s not that he doesn’t understand you, it’s that (it seems) you are responding to his emotions with reason only.
Here’s a quote from this blog:
“They have heard our explanation, they understand the situation, they are still upset.
The mistake we make is continuing to explain and rationalise. We often think the reason they are upset is that they don’t understand. If we could just explain differently they would surely get it and everything would be resolved, right? If we just offered a logical explanation they would eventually see sense and there would be no need to be upset.
We try to explain away the feelings. And that never works.
What do we need to do instead?
Hear the feelings.
Empathise with the feelings.
Validate the feelings.
Hearing an explanation doesn’t magically make you feel less disappointed about the outcome. We actually know that as adults. We’ve experienced this, we’re just better at regulating our emotions. Kids are still developing those skills. They need our help!
When they keep repeating what they want, it’s not that they don’t understand, it’s that they’re not getting the response they need… empathy.”
What do you do when he asks for a treat? You stop your project, look at him, and connect with him. That is what he is seeking: relationship. He will receive it any way that you are willing to give it. Are there things you can change about your perceptions of what is going on that would help guide the two of you into more workable relationship? Maybe cooking together would provide the focused time together? Is it possible for you to show him the work you do? “No touching the architectural drawing, but let me share this thing that is important to me.” It sounds like the true treat he wants is you.
Thanks for all the interesting articles!