It is a basic human need to want attention. But for children who have attention deficit problems, getting that attention may be a struggle. There are many children who simply do not understand how to get attention from others in an appropriate way. As a parent or caregiver, you may see your child try to gain attention by being disruptive, acting out, or through silly behavior. It can be frustrating to not know what to do in these instances other than react. And most times, reacting doesn’t work in the long term, because it never addresses the underlying need. We are here to help you to learn how to be pro-active and prevent behavior problems before they begin.
How do I know if my child’s behavior is to get attention?
The first thing you have to figure out is whether or not the behavior you are seeing is an attention seeking behavior. If the child engages in the behavior when they are alone, then it probably is not for the purpose of getting attention. Some behaviors which fall into the non-attention seeking realm may include tics, obsessions, and/or compulsive rituals. Some of the most common attention getting behaviors may include interrupting, yelling, and general misbehavior. If your child looks to you or others after they act up, then this can be a sign that they are looking to see if they got a rise from their behavior. The bottom line is if attention increases the behavior then it most likely is attention seeking behavior.
Why does my child keep engaging in attention seeking behaviors even after being punished?
One of the things to keep in mind about behaviors is that children will continue to engage in a behavior if there is a "pay off" somewhere. With attention seeking behaviors the pay off is attention. Remember that any type of attention, whether it is positive or negative, is still attention. Your "punishment" may actually be a reward to your child, especially if you get angry and show it. It is far more effective to be pro-active and use positive approaches than it is to react and punish. The other thing to keep in mind is that your child’s behavior may be sustained because their peers or siblings are giving them attention for it. You always have to look at behavior in the context and environment in which it occurs and ask, "What is feeding this behavior?"
So what can I do about my child’s constant need for attention?
One way to get your child’s needs met and also elicit appropriate behavior at the same time is through redirection. Redirection is when you channel your child’s needs to behavior you do want to see.
Here are some ways to be pro-active and redirect your child’s attention seeking behavior:
- Make sure that you devote some time each day to giving your child your undivided attention. If you have a young child that means getting on the floor and playing with them. With an older child it means doing activities with your child that they like to do whether it is going for a bike ride, baking cookies, or playing a sport.
- Provide opportunities for your child to receive praise and attention through creative outlets. Things like drama, art, sports, or even an improvisational comedy class can do wonders for your child’s self esteem. Imagine a kid who is bursting with creative energy. Give your child a way to express it. Their creative outlet just may be a career someday.
- Teach your child to communicate what they want with words. Some children will act out with behaviors because they lack communication skills to get what they want directly. For example if your child rushes up to you and practically tackles you to initiate play, teach them the words to use instead as in "I want to play."
- Some attention seeking behavior may be due to your child’s inability to wait. You will have to teach your child that there are certain times they may ask for attention and certain times they may have to wait. Please read my article, "Teaching Your Child How to Wait" to find out how.
- If your child is trying to get your attention in an inappropriate way, the general rule of thumb is to acknowledge the need, "I see you want my attention." Then tell them how to get it in an appropriate way, "Tap me on my shoulder and then ask for what you want."
- One thing which may contribute to a child’s behavior of seeking attention all the time is that they are bored and don’t know what to do with themselves. During unstructured times you can give your child a "choice menu" of independent activities to choose from. You can take photos of these choices and have your child point to which one they want to do for a specified time. The "choices" can be contained within boxes which are easy for you to access. Some ideas of what to put into a choice box are art supplies, legos, puzzles, bubbles, or sticker books. Just make sure that what you give them is an activity they like and can do independently.
- Give praise for when your child seeks your attention in an appropriate way, for waiting, and for engaging in independent activities. Do not reward or feed your child’s inappropriate behaviors by giving attention to them. Remember that negative attention is still attention.
These are just some ways to channel your child’s need for attention to more acceptable activities. But now we want to hear from you. How do you help your child to become more independent and less needy for constant attention? We want to hear your story. Your input is important to us
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I am a mother, a writer, and now an MS patient