In my latest book called “Parenting Made Easy” that’s out on 5th April I am writing about what to do with an attention seeking child.
This is just a taster of what I am covering in Chapter 9 which is all about getting your little darlings to behave easily, but if you can’t wait until April you can always download my comprehensive MP3 and ideas book called The Secrets to Well Behaved Kids or come on my next Workshop in September where you can work personally with me.
Here’s an extract form my new book.
“All of us are driven by the same six human needs.
The four primary needs are: Certainty, Variety, Significance and Love
And the two more spiritual needs are: Growth and Contribution as we grow older.
We all have a dominant need that seems to drive us and motivate us and children are no exception, because they also look for ways to feel valued, significant, important, unique and special.
I think it helps to remember that all behaviour has a purpose and this is the main reason why all discipline problems can’t be lumped together under one label and dealt with in the same way.
“The Bully” doesn’t have the same reasons for misbehaving as “The Class Clown” or the child who talks non-stop is different from the child who talks back.
So it helps to ask yourself the question:
“What is the underlying reason for my child acting in this way?” so you can try to get beneath the behaviour to understand the real reasons for it.
Most children gain attention in school or at home in normal, positive ways. However, some children feel that misbehaving is their best way to get your attention – as any attention is better than being ignored.
Often if you are very busy, stressed, overworked or struggling with your work/life balance you may find your child plays up, looks for your attention and “ gets naughty” or they may cry more often, or constantly interrupt you, or upset their brother or sister so you have to come to the rescue and pay them attention.
Some children will even tell you about all the bad things they have done that day just to wind you up because they are misbehaving in an attempt to gain your attention.
This can turn you from Mary Poppins to Cruella de Vil quite quickly and I’m certainly not in favour of labelling a child as e.g. “The Sporty One” “The Clever One” “The Musical One” or “The Clumsy One” etc as I think that can be detrimental to their self esteem as they often live up to their label.
But it is useful when describing a type of common behaviour to give it a label. Of course, never use labels in front of your child or when you are talking about your child to someone else as that can diminish their confidence , and their self esteem as well as setting them up to fulfil your prophecy of them.
So what do you do if your child suddenly starts attention seeking?
It’s not about beating yourself up; it’s just about noticing what’s happening and trying some new ways of handling things.
Here are the common characteristics and typical behaviour of a child who is suddenly demanding more of your attention.
- They become louder.
- They respond negatively to your authority.
- They are frequently late for everything so that you all notice them
- At home, or at school, they are frequently out of their seat.
- They pick on their siblings and other children to get your attention
- They start to ask unnecessary questions.
- They try to be deliberately nonconformist in order to gain your attention.
- They say the wrong thing at the wrong time.
- They want to start wearing unusual or attention-seeking clothing.
- They may start swearing to shock you.
- They do all sorts of small naughty things which are designed to get your attention so you are forced to give them additional time and attention.
- Everyone in the family starts including brothers and sisters start to get annoyed by their behaviour.
The Underlying Cause
Your child is doing everything possible to let you, their teachers and their peers know that they exist as they feel invisible and are attempting to “prove” themselves to others by getting everyone’s attention.
They are not very confident in social relationships and their academic and school performance maybe the root cause of their attention seeking behaviour
Here are some practical solutions to help with a consistently attention seeking child:
- The best way you can do this is to reinforce their good behaviour. Praise them for every small thing they do right and make sure you spend plenty of quality time reading, playing and talking to your children.
Parents sometimes think they are spending all their time doing things for their kids because they have washed their clothes, cooked their meals, made their bed, got them off to school etc but while those basic things are great, children really need their spiritual and emotional needs met and they need to be extended and stimulated mentally as well as physically.
Numerous studies show children who have lots of adult conversation, eye contact, are read stories, and play lots of games with their parents, excel at school, and are better developed socially. If you have misbehaving children perhaps they are not getting enough interaction with you and their “naughtiness” is just a way to get your attention.
- Give them your full attention – turn off the TV, put down the newspaper, stop texting or working on the computer and listen and talk with them not at them.
- They may feel that they are “not good enough” at academic subjects at school so they “play up” to hide what they are really feeling inside – which is not good enough. Talk to them about how you can help them improve in school or feel more confident in whatever subjects they are struggling in and find practical ways to support them if they find some subjects difficult. Talk to their teacher or do for example, 5 minutes of mental maths in the car on the way to school and find other simple ways to boost their confidence.
- Teach them the social skills they need to succeed and find some simple ways to turn the negative behaviour into a positive supportive experience for them. Redirect them towards successful behaviour rather than highlighting their mistakes then praise them for their efforts.
- Choose your language with more care. E.g “Danny, I need you to wait your turn when we are playing this board game” rather than “Danny, stop grabbing the dice “ Choose to reframe what you say deliberately into the positive – which takes practice but really does work !
- Children who attention seek actually need to feel a success at something so look for things to praise them at i.e being reliable in feeding the cat, being a great help with their sister, concentrating for ages when they draw, being a good friend, building models from scratch – keep looking for the opportunities to praise them naturally and easily and give them the right sort of attention.
- Help them take on responsibility and ways to show their leadership ability – either at home or at school i.e. walking the dog’s, feeding the hamster, laying the table, being home on time, joining the Scouts etc
- Take time to really talk to your child about their insecurities and to discover what the underlying cause of their anxiety is.
- Be kind, caring, calm and firm in your discipline and quick to reward the positive behaviour
- Model the behaviour you want to see so speak calmly, softly and quietly.
- Always look out for improvement so you can affirm how pleased you are to see a change.
- Never exclude your child as this exacerbates their feelings of not being good enough.
- Avoid making your child over anxious as this too makes their behaviour worse.
Common mistakes parents make with an attention seeking child;
- You assume that they don’t have the skills to do the job, when they really do.
- You ignore their behaviour and you fail to listen carefully to what your child is saying.
- You make hasty and inconsistent judgements about your child.
- You don’t look beneath their misbehaviour to find the underlying cause.
- You don’t give them any attention.
This may all take a bit of time as you may be breaking an old habit so be patient with yourself as it takes time to build up a new way of doing things. Stick with these knew approaches for a while before you expect to see results.
This “Special Time” Technique is one I teach my parents on my workshops because it really seems to work.
It works just about every time and the only reason it fails is because the parent stops, the kids seem to love it and never seem to get tired of this technique.
The technique takes about ten minutes each day
Tell your child that they will be getting special time with you each day.
Choose an easy time that fits in with your routine EVERY DAY – i.e after dinner for 10 minutes, at bedtime for 20 minutes, first thing in the morning for 15 minutes – whatever suits your natural rhythm and style of your family.
Then tell your child when that “Special Time” is planned so they can help remind you, get into the routine and look forward to it.
The important thing is that over time, they will learn to trust that it will always happen at the same time and they will learn to relax and know that this is their guarantee of your undivided attention.
Tell them that special time will start in 5 minutes so they can get ready and excited.
Tell your child that Special Time has started – so they are aware that this ringed fenced, special attention time is theirs now.
Enjoy whatever you’ve planned a game, a chat, a video, a story, an outside activity – whatever is your special time and stay PRESENT! No thinking about the ironing, the report you need to write or the football on the telly later!
Prepare your child that Special Time will end in 5 minutes. – as they will always want more of your time ! So prepare them for the end of it.
Tell your child that Special Time is over for today – and don’t get drawn into the moans, and whining …. be firm , consistent , and end it confidently saying “We’ll spend our Special Time again tomorrow.” Knowing that you will keep your word.
You have now set up a new habit, delivered your promise and kept your word, so your child will trust you, look forward to it and learn to relax and not demand so much of your time or attention at other times.
During your Special Time ask your child what they want to do – I work with so many parents who tell their kids what they are going to do… which is defeating the object really.
Let me know how you get on as I love receiving your comments and emails 🙂