How to React if Your Kid Wants Attention?

All people want to feel their value and importance in the world, and children are not an exception in their quest to be necessary, useful and notable.


Obedience and disobedience

Parenthood is one of the main values given to us by nature. On the one hand, this is the joy of bringing up a new personality; on the other hand, it is a great responsibility, since it only depends on us what our children will be like when they reach adulthood.

What parent does not ask himself/herself if he does the right thing to his/her child in a particular case? Here, the only measure of our consistency is our children’s behavior – how it meets our expectations and aspirations. We are proud of the child’s successes and get upset when the kids act not the way we want, and we do not always properly respond to these actions.

Why children misbehave

I pay much attention to my children and love them, so why do they continue to misbehave?

All people want to feel their value and importance in the world, and children are not an exception in their quest to be necessary, useful and notable.

In the past, when most people supported themselves by physical labor, children’s help in the family was a must, and they could somehow show their worth. Over time, life has changed, and it was becoming increasingly difficult for a child to find a decent occupation to feel important. In today’s world, it is harder for us to find opportunities for our children to feel their value.

We adults want to feel our importance and involvement in everything. If we lose this feeling, our behavior tends to change for the worse. We start proving something to someone, feeling sorry for ourselves, withdrawing into ourselves, seeking guilty ones etc.

Children behave badly because they doubt their own abilities and do not see the possibility to show us their talents. Our children want to meet our expectations, and we are to do one thing: make it clear what we expect from them, guide their behavior in the right direction, and confirm the correctness of their actions. If they do not receive the necessary confirmation, they will try to attract attention by misbehavior. This causes our concern, but concern is only an emotion, not a solution.

Children have their own needs, and those needs change, as they grow older. In early childhood, they need safety, comfort, affection, and care. Later, they develop the needs inherent in an adult – the need for knowledge, development, self-esteem, freedom etc.

To meet his/her needs, the child does the same things as adults do – he/she tends to get what he/she wants. The child’s arsenal is not as rich as that of an adult, so the child is trying to succeed using all the methods available. If the child does not get the right guidance, and his/her efforts are ignored by us, the child begins to act on his/her own, but the purpose of such actions can be displaced. Trying to achieve distorted goals, the child changes behavior, and we define it as misconduct.

At this stage, it is important to move from the question of “who is guilty” to the question “how to deal with this situation.”

Rudolf Dreikurs considered bad behavior of children as an erroneous goal that can be reoriented. He provisionally identified four displaced objectives: attention, influence, revenge, and avoidance.

Bad behavior is an indicator of the child’s problems, so the first question that the parents need to ask themselves is “What is my baby trying to tell me with such behavior?”

The goal is to attract attention

There is a way by which you can correctly identify the faulty aim of the child’s behavior. The child, whose purpose is to attract attention, usually causes irritation in adults. Negative attention of an adult is a common reaction to such behavior of the child. However, not all children use bad behavior to attract attention. Look closely at the child, who attracts your attention with good behavior. For him/her, it is important to be a “good boy/girl” and to please everyone. This child is praised at home and at school. Here again, your response is important. If the child’s constant desire to please you or to be distinguished for something causes your irritation – it is the first sign that the displaced goal is to draw attention.

Reorientation of the goal of “attracting attention”

The result of achieving this goal is for the child to obtain your attention by any means available. For the child, the attention received means his/her importance and self-worth and serves as the confirmation of love. The essence of the reorientation will be to ensure that the parent gives the child a confirmation in love, but does not support the child’s behavior. How to achieve this?

Method 1: what to do if the child needs attention

In this case, reorientation consists of four steps:

  • Do not look into the eyes of the child, when the child demonstrates the behavior that you do not like.
  • Do not talk to him.
  • Do something for the child to feel your love. It is best to pat the child on the back or the hair. Do not slap him/her on the head because it is quite humiliating.
  • Immediately proceed with the actions, go through the first three stages – do not look into the eyes, do not say a word, do something that will help the child feel your love as soon as his/her behavior starts to irritate you. When you learn to do all this correctly, your child will have to think about his/her behavior. The child is used to feeling this way: “when adults are busy with me, it means they love me.” Now he/she begins to realize that love is demonstrated even when adults are busy doing something.
  • For example: A man is sitting in a room talking to a visitor, when his son runs out of his room and says that he urgently needs his father’s help in building a tower. One of the possible options would be to continue talking with the guest without looking at the child and at the same time to pat the son on the back or shoulder. Be patient, the child will stop whining soon. The child receives a confirmation of love rather than the reinforcement of interrupting the conversation.

Remember that in order to succeed you need to increase the frequency of communication in the situations when the child is not fighting for your attention.

Method 2: what to do if the child demands attention

If the child “seeks” attention and makes it so that you start to feel irritation, you need to take the child from one place to another:

  • Gently take the child by the hand and lead him/her into another room (it should not be his/her own bedroom, as this may be associated with a place for punishment).
  • Say just once: “You may come back when you calm down.” This phrase gives the child an opportunity to control his/her behavior from the inside. If you say: “Stay out for five minutes”, you seem to become the controller, and the child will depend on the mercy of an adult again. If the child comes out of the other room and behaves as he should behave – that’s exactly what you need!
  • If the child leaves the room and continues to behave the same way, gently take his hand and immediately lead him out of the room as many times as necessary. Be patient and persevering.

Your goal as a parent is to teach the child to get your attention without showing challenging behavior.

For example, you can negotiate with your child about any signal that would allow the child not only to recognize and control his/her feelings, but also to correctly receive the desired thing.

It is important to remember that even a very busy parent should be able to find an opportunity to communicate with his/her children; each child should get a part of parental attention during a week.

The time spent alone with a parent is very valuable for the child. After all, it is much easier to share intimate thoughts and feelings when the child is alone with you. Such moments lay the foundation of your strong relationship with the child, and if the child feels that your relationship becomes more intimate and confidential, he/she will respect you and will always support you. When the children get the desired attention, they do not need to seek it in a negative way.

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