What your child really needs when they keep seeking attention
Attention seeking. Not my favourite phrase. In my work, teacher after teacher would describe a child, usually one whose behaviour was challenging, and I could count the minutes until this phrase popped up.
He’s just so attention seeking.
Often this was said with real frustration. Also, to be fair to many of my amazing teaching colleagues, with empathic resignation.
And I would respond: ‘He really needs a lot of attention’. See the difference? He’s not just seeking it for the fun of it.
His cup is low.
The fact is that children are programmed to seek regular interaction with the people they care about.
This behaviour only gets a little stuck when their needs and our response don't match.
Especially in times when their world feels a little less stable. Common triggers are changes such as a new sibling, starting school or a family separation.
Even though this behaviour is developmentally normal it can feel really frustrating for parents, especially when they feel like they already do spend lots of time with their children.
The problem is that the child’s subconsciously chosen strategy makes them their own worst enemy. The more needy, clingy, and disruptive they are, the less people want to be around them. Time out after time out drains the cup even more. Because the attention they get from behaving in this way is like little sips from the cup. It isn't satisfying so they keep it up in an attempt to quench their thirst.
Often the advice given for children being 'attention seeking' is to ignore them. My experience is that this usually increases the behaviour that we're looking to minimise. We have to find ways to give attention without falling into the trap of only handing out warnings and consequences. A way to redirect their behaviour in a positive fashion.
If this behaviour is frequent in your house, it might be your child's way of trying to tell you they need something more from you at this time. It’s easy to misread the signals, especially from older children who seem to need us less. Most houses have two working parents, more than one child and a whole raft of other responsibilities and demands on their time. The pace of life is fast.
I know, I've been there and I can see the impact it has on my daughter's behaviour when it all rushes ahead too fast and she doesn't get what she needs from me.
Opportunities for moments of real connection disappearing into the white noise of life.
When children behave in ways that tell us their cup is low for whatever reason (and sometimes you won’t ever even figure out why) they are asking us to slow down. To connect. To join their world for a while. But not a serious, let’s sit down and talk about your behaviour time.
More of a
why don’t just me and you take the dog for a walk sort of time
let’s kick a ball about sort of time
let’s read stories like we used to just for fun sort of time.
Maybe as a parent, your cup is a little low too and that makes the situation even harder.
Slow down, connect, have fun.
Full cups all round.
If your child has been struggling with this behaviour you might want to implement a more structured plan for filling their cup. Download our guide to this here
Family life been really tricky?
You might want to check out our complete online course - When time out doesn't work. Practical, positive parenting.