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Attention-Seeking Behavior in Children

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Do you have an attention-addict in your home? Find out the different signs of an attention seeking child as well as effective ways you can train and correct these behaviors.

It should come as no surprise to you that one goal of your child’s misbehavior is attention. It is probably the most widely used explanation for why children misbehave. Children are generally very self-centered. Without training, they will see that their world revolves around them and you are just another planet in their solar system, available to do their bidding. This dynamic begins at birth out of a need for survival but will require modification as the child ages.

What attention-seeking behavior looks like. The old adage is true: negative attention is better than no attention. Here are some ways that children misbehave to gain attention:

• Temper tantrums (which subside when you leave the room)
• Wild or outlandish behavior (such as class clowns and physical comedians)
• Over-reacting to events or circumstances (having a disproportionate reaction)
• Playing the “victim” role in disputes with others (to garner sympathy or pity)
• Getting poor grades in order to increase parental involvement around homework time
• Lying or over-dramatizing stories or memories

What attention-seeking behavior feels like to you.  If your child is acting out for attention, you will likely find yourself experiencing feelings of fatigue, exhaustion, annoyance and even resentment as you expend endless amounts of energy dealing with your high maintenance child. You also may have a nagging sense that you are being manipulated.

What his behavior tells you. An attention seeking child acts this way for one of two reasons: 1) he is, in fact, in need of more attention from you or, 2) he is desperately addicted to it.

How to correct attention-seeking behavior. You may feel there is no substance to your child’s claims that you never pay any attention to him or that you prefer his little brother over him. However, you need to do some investigating before you jump to conclusions. Not all attention is created equal. It can take different forms. If you are unsure what kind of attention is most meaningful to your child, it is recommended that you read Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages of Children (or you can take an online love language assessment here).  This book will help you understand how best you can communicate love to your child. Once you know, you can better understand the possible gaps in your relationship.

If you determine that you are speaking your child’s love language but he is still acting up in attention-seeking ways, you will have to make some changes. You can do this if you pay attention to your child in unexpected ways. Rather than engage him when he is having a meltdown, walk away whistling. When it is over, strike up an unrelated, light conversation. By doing this you will be removing any possible reinforcement of his attention-seeking behavior. By not revisiting it after-the-fact, you also remove any secondary gains he might get after his meltdowns (soothing hugs, comfort, etc.). To be sure, consequences must be applied if your child has broken any rules and amends must be made if he has offended anyone during his meltdown. Making sure that you engage your child during times of non-attention seeking behaviors is a great cure for an attention-addiction.

Next article: Controlling Children

About the author

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in children and families. CfP is the place she combines some of her very favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She loves encouraging parents to build their families upon Jesus, the one true Cornerstone. She is happily married to a wonderfully supportive husband and is the mother of two delightfully inspiring children.

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  • Hi,
    We have two boys (almost 7 and 10) and we have been struggling with our oldest son. He is showing a real lack of respect towards adults and sometimes children. We had a house fire just over two years ago and are living at my mom’s. Needless to say there are struggles over parenting, etc and we have tried our very best to maintain open lines of communication and foster a mutual respect. Sometimes there are negative comments from my mom about or to my husband and sometimes the children are present. Also, due to the living arrangement it has been difficult for us to have non family members over for get togethers so we have him in various sports which he seems to really love and excel at. We also just recently received his report card and at school he is doing classic attention seeking behaviours and refusing to read anything at his grade level. He is quite bright and can be very funny/witty when he wants to be and then very moody/grumpy as well. I am curious if you have any suggestions on what we can do about his attention seeking behaviours? Also, there is some jealousy between the siblings. Is this normal? What can we do to mitigate those emotions/feelings? His brother seems to know when the oldest one is acting up and does a “great” job at being easy…which only adds the focus in on the older siblings negative behaviour. I feel that my son has so many amazing qualities and I feel that they are getting buried underneath the negative actions and subsequent consequence/reaction. I am also any suggestions on how to strengthen the relationship between him and his dad. Quite often the conversation between them can be confrontational and I feel like the oldest son is trying to pit adult against adult with his reactions and/or word choice. Any suggestions would be amazing and greatly appreciated!!

    • Hi Darcee,

      It sounds like you have your hands full. I would suggest that you try to discern what is the most troubling issue you are facing right now and start with that. Jealousy between siblings is quite normal. It is important that you and your husband be on the same page. Sit down and talk about the issues that you are seeing and come up with a plan on how to address them. It is important that your children see you and your husband as united in parenting. Once you do that, maybe you could sit with your mom and talk about how to best live under the same roof. Set up boundaries and expectations so everyone is on the same page.

      Best wishes,

  • For a while now we’ve been having trouble with our ten – soon to be eleven – year old son’s behaviour.
    His behaviour is at its worst at bedtime.
    He’s always had a good bedtime routine and slept well but he now struggles to get off to sleep.
    My husband and I did think he was showing signs of OCD (tapping things, turning in doorways, stamping his feet, flapping his arms – he said he thought something terrible might happen if he didn’t do it and was very anxious) but it now appears that this could be an attention seeking strategy – a friend’s older brother did similar. He has recently become very messy – it’s almost like he’s deliberately trying to get negative attention. I try so hard to give him positive attention and have tried to calm his anxiety by doing headspace mindfulness with him. I just feel like our relationship has broken down and that he is deliberately trying to punish me with his behaviour. I know I should not see it in this way but when I’m worn down by it (like now), I can’t help it.

    • Hi Jane,

      I can hear your frustration with your son’s troubling behavior. I am glad that you are trying different things to address it. If you feel like your relationship has broken down, I would start there. There is little you can hope to change unless you can do two things: improve your relationship and understand the underlying cause of this behavior. I would start by looking at your interactions with him through the lens of your relationship. Ask yourself when you are dealing with him, “Is what I am saying or doing helping to build or tear down our relationship?” Talk to him about your concerns about your relationship. Maybe he has some ideas as well. Also, I would try to find out what is behind the behavior. You can have him assessed by a child development specialist. It may be a “phase” but it wouldn’t hurt to have him seen. You can check with his pediatrician for recommendations.

      God bless,

  • Hi, I was wondering if you could help/advice me. My 13 year old daughter is causing me concern. She is attention seeking to the point she makes up stories to her friends that me and her sister are hitting her when in fact i had to restrain her as she was kicking the wall, door and throwing things because she was grounded and i had told her she couldn’t go to Guides, her friend has now gone to the teacher and told them. She is very materialistic also. me and her dad separated when she was 2 but had a great relationship up until nearly 2 years ago when he suddenly didn’t want to contribute financially anymore, he took me to court after that to try and get 50/50 access so strengthen his case of not paying (he didn’t get the result he wanted he then turned nasty towards my daughter) – i have tried to shelter her from all the arguments from my side but i have no control over what her father says (he tells her everything and even took her to the post office to serve the court papers) – he has been rather cold to her since then saying she betrayed him because she wouldn’t leave me to go live with him. It has been very tough for her i know, she craves the attention she once had from her dad (they were like two peas in a pod) and seems to take it out on me as if it my fault and my partners fault (she will not be nice to my partner as she has told my mum that she is bretraying her dad but yet she is nice to her dads partner). I have tried most things, talking to her, spending quality time with her and then she is great for a few days then it all starts again its as if she see’s my understanding, love and attention as the green light to start asking for things ie money, puppies, new clothes etc and when i say no she kicks off again – i feel like i am on a rollercoaster that never stops – sorry its so long

    • Hi Rachel,

      I am so sorry to hear of your struggles. Your daughter is in a lot of pain. I would suggest that you find a trusted counselor in your area that she can talk to – someone just for her. Often kids in these situations need an “outsider” to whom they can confide in and share their thoughts and feelings with. This is a challenging developmental stage with all of the changes that are naturally happening in her mind and body, but she has some additional stressors given the events that have happened (and are happening) in her life. I don’t know where you live, but your pediatrician could likely point you in the right direction as far as a referral goes. In the meantime, it is important to maintain clear rules and structure in your home, as it sounds like you are doing and to make sure that you let her know that you are available to talk if she needs to.

      I hope that helps. Best wishes,

  • Morning Laura,

    I am hoping you can help shed some light on my son who is 7. My ex and l separated over a year and he took it the hardest, we tried recently to amend and so advising both boys (9 yr old) we were going to try but unfortunately l can’t. We are good friends and are amicable. The main problem is bedtime (for me not so much his dad) we’ll go to bed, following normal routines, mostly before 8.30 and he’ll be awake till 11pm some nights. If he latex there till then l wouldn’t mind but he disturbs his brother and nags me. He either wants me to lie with him which we have done in the past, or carrys on. I do yell, yes not the best but l feel l can’t control this, lm exhausted every night here is here. Not only bed time, he seems to have a shy nature but l don’t feel he is. To say sorry is a real deal for him, he says it but can’t look at the person and you can hardly understand what he says, l get that is hard for some but the true him l don’t believe is shyness? He is so fussy with clothes to the point of underwear, socks, no long pants and even pj’s, l generally pick my battles with this, but he is exhausting me. I know he’s wanting my attention and l try very hard to, we do cuddle lots and l try and talk one on one with him but he just gets all silly and doesn’t focus. He is an a grade student at school and well liked but a lot of adults find him rude or hard work, his teacher hasn’t said anything is wrong. I feel l should get him assessed or is this all normal, please help as sometimes l feel like smacking him and at times threaten which l know isn’t the answer. Tania

    • Hi Tania,

      Thank you for reaching out. I can hear your frustration. First of all, I would suggest that when you feel like lashing out at him, you take a breath and walk away. Whatever is happening at the moment can wait and you will be in a better place to address it if you are calm. If he follows you, lock your door and put on music. It is better to separate yourself for a period than to do something that could be damaging. Always seek help if you feel your son is pushing you to your limits.

      I don’t think it would hurt to have him evaluated. From what you described, none of his symptoms seem “abnormal” from a diagnostic standpoint. Some kids are very sensitive and are impacted more by the events and sensations in their environment. That being said, you may find having a professional counselor talk to him would provide some insights into his current experiences. He is trying to process your separation but does not have the tools to do so, so he uses what he can: control.

      Sometimes a direct approach with sensitive kids is best. By giving words to what they are feeling, you release them from having to express it in unhealthy ways. You can say something like, “Tell me if I am wrong but I think a lot of the troubles you are having are because you have some strong feelings. I think you are sad that Dad and I are not together. You wish we were. You feel torn because you love us both but are mad at us.” You can go on to give expression to whatever else you think he might be feeling, but be sure to say, “tell me if I am wrong.” You want to give him permission to correct you if you missed the mark.

      Then I might consider making an appointment to have him speak to a counselor who specializes in divorce. I imagine this would be short term treatment as he just needs to put words to what he is feeling.

      I hope that helps,

  • Hi

    I need some help.. My 9 year old son over the last 3 months has developed a sleeping g problem to start with he would wake in the middle of the night saying he could hear noises and then refusing to go back to be unless me or his dad slept on the bedroom floor or he get into bed with one of us.. We have had ever lie, tale, excuse as to my he wakes up… He will sleep completely fine at his friends, grandparents house just not in his own..
    Just recently in has gone to a new level by where he will not even go to bed by himself we take him up tuck him in come back down… Then its like a yoyo effect until one of us sleeps in his room with him… I work nights so this mainly falls onto his fathers head.. It’s become impossible when we also have a 3 year which fingers crossed is a good sleeper at present.. He has a tendance to wake her up too… help I tried everything spoke to his school, no problems, take things away no effect… Wiped the slate clean.. Its continues.

    Any advice would be grately appreciated

    • Hi Emm,

      It is not uncommon for kids to go through some regression in sleeping at some point. It is possible that he saw something or read something that triggered some fears. First of all, ask him specifically if there is anything he saw or read that he needs to talk about. My other suggestion would be to create a very predictable bedtime routine. You may want to consider a bath of epsom salts before bed (there is a product with lavender that helps with relaxation). You can read a chapter of a favorite story (nothing too exciting). I would also consider giving him two tickets at bedtime. Tell him that he can use these two tickets to come out of his room during the night, but that once the tickets are gone he cannot make any more “requests.” Also ask him what he might need to make his room more comfortable. A nightlight? the closet light on? music? a flashlight? See if you can let him come up with some solutions. I would suggest that you no longer sleep on his floor. The sleep issue is his, not yours. If he is too afraid to sleep alone, he can use one ticket to ask if he can sleep on the floor of your room. Don’t make it too comfortable, just a pillow and a blanket. And make sure that he is getting plenty of exercise during the day to promote sleep and to dissipate any anxiety.

      I hope that helps,

  • Please help, from a very young age my son has had a difficult time respecting and listening to adults at daycare and school. My son has gotten worse over the years and it seems no matter what punishment we have tired nothing is working. My son is now 7 and understands right from wrong and gets very hard on himself and even punishes himself at times after we have punished him, he’s now lying and acting out more and no punishment seems to work.
    We’ve tried having heart to heart talks, spending time one on one, rewards, positive reinforcements and nothing seems to be working. When I asked why he is acting out, hurting himself or threatening to hurt himself he said it’s because he doesn’t want to be punished for being bad, I tried to explain he gets punished only to show that everyone has rules to abide by but I’m at my wits ends, please help!

    • Hi Veronica,
      Have you heard of The Nurtured Heart Approach by Howard Glasser? It is a great method that helps parents and kids get out of the cycle of misbehavior-punishment. You can learn more about it here. On that page, you will also find some practitioners that are trained in the approach. You can do a search to see if any counselors are available in your area. You can also read his book called Transforming the Difficult Child. I think that approach would work well with your son, but it also sounds like you are at a point where you could benefit from some counseling as well.

      I hope that helps get you headed in the right direction.
      God bless,

  • I’m so thankful to have stumbled upon your site. Children are born with different characteristics that may, in one way or another, make them either easy or difficult to live with. Nevertheless, they need to feel special. They need to be accepted for who they are, to hear compliments, and to be recognized.

  • Nice article. I am facing a similar situation with my 9-year-old boy and wondering if you could help me out. I believe he is suffering from certain psychological issues. He concocts stories that appear very real, exaggerates stuff and cries hysterically which appears genuine. His claims turn out to be false at times, and when asked why he lied, he just says was trying to be naughty. Does he need psychological help? I am a single mother but I do not believe that he has been deprived of any affection whatsoever.

    Please guide

    • Hi Vani,

      I think it might be a good idea for him to be evaluated by someone who specializes in working with children. You can use this link to find someone in your area (you can narrow the search by insurance coverage and specialties). I think ultimately it would be helpful to uncover how those stories are serving him. You could ask him some probing questions like: If you stopped telling these stories, what would be different in your life? What parts of telling stories do you like? What parts don’t you like? A trained professional would be able to help you communicate with your son to find out what purpose these stories are serving and help him get those needs met in healthier ways.

      I hope that helps.
      God bless,

  • Hi, I feel at a loss and hope you could give me some insight.. My 12yr.old son has dyslexia and has been doing fine academically and socially until this year (7thgrade). He is angry, moody, exaggerates stories, lies and has started faking illnesses. He has his counselor snowed. He knows what to say and how to act in her presence to get out of her office quickly. He is manipulative and sneaky as well. There is no trust between him and the rest of our family because of all the lies he tells. He has a math teacher this year that constantly puts him and the other children in class down. It’s really bad. That’s the only class he is not doing so well in. We have tried moving him out of that class, but they said he had to switch the whole team. He loves his other teachers and doesn’t want to move. I feel like I’m loosing him and I want to get a handle on this before he is 16 and it really blows up. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

    • Hi Dana – The first thought that comes to mind is to maybe look into a mentor for him. You can search for a mentor program here. I think this would be a good approach given the fact that he is not being “real” with his therapist. He may be more willing to open up in a mentor relationship. Developmentally, he is going through a lot of changes – emotionally and physically. This can be a very trying time for him and for you as he tries to adjust to hormones and the normal desire for separation that comes with adolescence. To address the lying you can read this or this. These are some challenging articles that try to explore the underlying cause of lying and how to deal with it.

      I hope that helps. God bless,

  • Hi. I have a 7yr old daughter who just recently bang to act out and it all started in school. I took her out of public school and was enrolled into a all girls charter school. My daughter began lying and acting out. I many times talked with my daughter asking why the change in behavior and what’s the cause. She stated then that she just wanted friends and no one likes her. She stated many times before that she has seen other students act out and get away with it, but for some reason when she does it, it gets thrown over board and seems to be much more dramatic and extreme than the rest. She’s mentioned to me before that they tease her because she’s smart and always does everything right so everyone befriends and bully’s her. When she acts out they speak to her and interacts with her. I don’t know if this is even possible or true. The summer has came and gone. My daughter is no longer attesting this all girls school and she’s going into a charter school for boys and girls. Throughout the summer my daughter has been lying I’ve noticed a lot more and when questioned about it she just shuts down only says three reaponses which are no, I don’t know, and or nothing. I’ve lost my patience and at times scream do to her not talking to me and me not knowing what is going on with her and why. She just stands there looks me in the eye pretends to be scared and or nervous and just whines and cries like a baby toddler. When she does things she’s not suppose to I send her to her room where she throws tantrums and or before I get a chance to actually send her to her room she tried to debate and convince me no. Now every time I’m out places she’s always doing the opposite of what I ask which is walk stop running she’s wild at times and or acts silly I believe on purpose just for me to have to turn around and say to her to stop as if she doesn’t already know any better and or ask of her do she not have any self control. I’m at my wit ends and I do not know what to do. We don’t go out as much because she’s always making a scene when she doesn’t get her way which makes me not want to go out and enjoy the day. We mainly will stay at home where she just still just doesn’t get it. What can I possibly be doing wrong or what is it that I can do to better communicate and understand my daughter better. I’m afraid that she hasn’t learned her lesson from the last school year and that she’ll start this school year off and continue with the same behavior in this different environment. She’s been going to school socializing with many different people since she was two years old. She’s went to public school till kindergarten and has never had these issues until she’s started this all girls school. Now it’s like my daughter doesn’t know how to be herself without trying so hard to fit in and be someone else. And now it’s hard I believe in my eyes for her to interact and becomes friends with other people because she just doesn’t know who she is anymore or maybe because we are not surrounded around people going out and socializing as we should.
    Please help. I don’t know what am I doing or not doing. I just want my daughter back.

    • Hi Cathy – There seem to be many issues here. I think the best path is for you to find a parent coach who can work through the different issues that you are facing. You can do a google search with the terms “parent coach” to find a professional who can coach you through phone or skype. If you add your state to your search criteria, you may be able to find a coach in your area who could come to your home. This may be a good place to start:

      God bless,

  • Hi,

    I hope you can help I am at my wits end with my 12 year old daughters attitude, she speaks to me like I am something she has trooden thru my carpets! When she is disrespectful I take away her phone and tv priviliges she screams at me me saying that I’m a selfish cow and I only ever think of myself!! The child is selfish, disrespectful and rude, she constantly shows us up when we go out as a family by shouting out inappropriate comments and having a tntrum when we don’t give in to her demands. I now have reached the point where I do not speak to her because I know she’s pushed me to the point of snapping and saying something I will regret so I have chosen not to speak at all, She now has no mobile phone or TV and is grounded but she continually tried to play myself and partner off against each to the point our 15 year relationship is on the verge of breaking point. PLEASE HELP!! I can’t cope anymore!!!

    • Hi Suzie – I am sorry that you are struggling in your relationship with your daughter. Have you tried counseling? It seems like it would be helpful for you both to learn how to communicate again. Try this site to find a therapist that works in your area.

      I would also suggest that you and your partner spend some time everyday communicating on what went right that day and what you would like to do differently the following day. Using each other as support through this could help you feel more connected and less torn apart by the pain she is causing.

      I would also try to figure out what is fueling this for her. Ask yourself some questions like: when did this start? what feelings is she covering up with her anger and disrepect? is there anyone in her life who she can talk to right now? what has worked to draw us close in the past? do we have anything in common that we can do together? can I find and focus on the positives, no matter how small? what times of day are better for communicating than others? can I effectively parent her through the wounds she causes?

      I hope that helps. God bless,

  • Hi,
    My 12 year old daughter has been a real challenge for the past two years. After starting puberty early and being much taller than her friends she developed a ‘top-dog’ attitude. She can be very disrespectful to adults at school and to me. She does seem to choose when she wants to be rude and disrespectful and to whom she does this. Her reactions to being sanctioned are totally over the top and cause her to get into more trouble. She has been a real handful but I would not like to share the details.
    On the other hand, my daughter can be lovely and now seems to be showing remorse, where she previously did not. I think that she might be attention addicted. Can you give me some tips for dealing with her please?


    • Hi Jen,

      She may have felt that she had to develop this attitude to cope with feeling different. The good news is that it sounds like your daughter is making some steps in the right direction. For starters I would think about this question: “What character traits do I feel that my daughter is missing that I would like her to develop?” Whatever traits you come up with as the answer, find ways that she can be challenged to develop them. You may determine that she needs to think of others first. If so, you might want to consider finding her opportunities to serve others. Maybe she could play the piano at a local nursing home or rehab center. Or what about volunteering in the church nursery or at a local animal rescue shelter?

      I hope that helps,

  • Hi I was wondering if you could help me. My 9 year old stepdaughter has started to steal the most recent one is a dress that caused severe rows with me and her dad. Which i found buried at the bottom of my laundry basket. It was scrunched up and i cant see my partner doing that if anything was going on. Also she is constantly kicking and hitting my own two younger children who are 7 and 4. They are ending up being kicked in the face and slapped and pinched by my 9 year old. On top of that she lied about my daughter stealing biscuits from the cupboard after i told of my 7 year old and she was so upset because i told her off. Then my 9 year old admits to taking the biscuits her dad just tells her to stop and sends her to her room and all we get back from that is a sarcastic comment which is go to my room i know. I am at my wits end my relationship is breaking down because of it and my own children are suffering i love my partner and his daughter very much but i cant continue with this relationship if my own children are at risk as well as the constant stealing and lies from my stepdaughter. Im concerned because i think i have no choice but to end our relationship any advice would be appreciated thank you

    • Hi Trina,

      It sounds like your step-daugther is in a lot of pain. These behaviors that you are describing are signs that she is hurting. It sounds like some outside help might be the answer. I suggest that you (meaning you, your partner and your stepdaughter) find a counselor who does family therapy and use that neutral ground to air any issues that are being expressed with these negative behaviors. Your parnter and step-daughter may find a few session with just two of them to be helpful as well. I would not suggest including your younger children in the counseling at the beginning but as relationships heal, they could be invited to join.

      I hope that helps.
      God bless,

  • Hi Laura.
    My girl friends son is 9 years old he has 2 sisters 7 and 5. He seems like he likes getting yelled at just to get attention. He will do something wrong get caught and then will cry like a 2 year old and it seems he cries to just get the of being in trouble. The 2 girls and a cousin all had birthday parties all within 3 weeks he was so upset@ each party he wasn’t getting any present so he would ask question to everyone to get there attention. When he plays a game he makes up his own rules so he can win. My gf is at here wits end with this behavior any ideas on how to handle it.

    • Hi Ken – Thank you for stopping by. Some of the behaviors you have described can be indicative of a child who is struggling with a negative self image. He might be behaving the way he is because he does not feel good about himself (cheating at games, feeling presents = love, setting himself up to get in trouble, etc). He is probably caught in this vicious cycle – “I feel bad about myself so I act bad which gets me into trouble and makes me feel bad about myself.” If this is what is happening, you can imagine how stuck he must feel. The way to intervene is to break the cycle. Positive reinforcements (focusing on what he does right) and building his sense of self worth (through increased responsibilities that show you think he is trustworthy) may help. You might want to try the suggestions in these articles as well: positive parenting, positive opposites, energize success. I would also recommend reading the Nurtured Heart Approach by Glasser. I think that parenting approach would be a good fit for this little boy.

      God bless,

  • I’m tired… 7 year old son is out of control! He’s usually the first one out of bed in the morning and the first thing he does is something he’s not supposed to. Then when I get up he acts like he’s done nothing wrong when I punish him! He walks into a room and has to dominate the conversation with a very loud voice and nonsense information that he’s told us all many times before. Then, when we confront him with this he tells us that we don’t love him and think he’s stupid!! I’m getting to the point where I honestly  just don’t want to get up in the morning so I don’t have to deal with him….my husband and I have both said to each other while we’re away from the house, that we dreaded going back home just because of this behavior. I love my son, but I’m literally at my wits end….what should I do?

    • Hi Crystal –

      I think your son needs a “reset”. What I mean by that is you need to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. I would start by sitting down with him at a time of calm (maybe when you are not home) and tell him that things need to change. You want a happy home life and his behavior and the ways you have been dealing with it have not been working.

      A behavior chart can be a short term tool to make this abrupt change. To me, behavior charts are reserved for the most difficult to irradicate behaviors. You can read more about my approach to behavior charts here and here. With this method, your child starts with nothing and has to earn everything back. Pick only three of the most offensive behaviors and turn them into goals (for example: “play quietly in your room in the morning”, “accept consequences/apologize for disobedience”, and “stop, look, listen and inquire when entering a room”). Once you have these goals in place, his progress toward those goals determines how much of his “normal” privileges he gets back (the key here is that he is not trying to earn extras, but those normal blessings of being part of your family that he so clearly is taking for granted).

      I hope that helps get you headed in the right direction.


  • I hope you can help me. I have a 9 year old daughter, a 3 year old son and am due to give birth to another son any day now. My daughter has always been such a chilled child, loved school lots of friends, happy adjusted. In the last 8 weeks she has changed into something unrecognizable. She lies, she fakes illness every single night before bed, she’s started to do the same at school, she’s lying to her teacher about silly things (eg how to spell her name or mummy will be cross??!) She it doing ridiculous things for attention and ruining all our attempts to give her more attention. I am almost bed ridden with this pregnancy so what I can do is limited but I just don’t know what to do to get my happy normal little girl back???

    • Hi Chloe – Congratulations on the new baby! My guess is that your daughter is having some adjustment difficulties to the impending arrival of her new sibling. She was six when your other son was born, so she likely has memories of how needy newborns can be. My suggestions are these: sit down and talk to her. Tell her you have noticed a change and tell her you are wondering if she has feelings about the new baby. Ask her questions like, “how do you think things will change?” and “what will stay the same?” Affirm you love for her and the uniqueness of your relationship that is different than any other. Find special things that you and she do together – even if it is something small like a treat or game after all her siblings are in bed. If possible find someone in your life that can be a support to her during this transition – a grandparent or trusted adult. Someone who can take her for outings and give her a place to talk about all the changes she is experiencing. I hope this helps. Many blessings on your new addition!


  • Please help…..I have a 3 nearly 4 year old little princess who non stop craves attention even the negative attention ….she screams instead of crying if she has a pain we all have to suffer. She refuses to do her poo in the toilet nd screams while on the toilet till I take her off then she holds her wee and poo for hours till she gets so sore and goes in her knickers and screams again.she wakes up at night upset I go in to console her she screams louder and pushes me away wont tell me why she’s upset after a long time asking her to tell me what’s wrong and getn no answer I tell her I can’t help if I don’t know what’s wrong I try T go back to bed she screams louder I’m at my wits end with her. She spends the rest of the day hanging out of me and saying look at me look at this mammy mammy mammy look at me. I’m on the verge of losing my mind. I have a 8mth old aswell and trying to keep my lil girl from feeling left out has me exhausted. Its not since the baby arrived she has always been this way and gets it from her fatherhes a drama queen. I need some advice I’m not handling situations calmly ne more. I’m losing the plot please help.

    • Hi Lisa,

      Thanks for reaching out. Have you spoken to her pediatrician? Since she has always been this way, it may be worth discussing with a pediatrician from a developmental perspective. In the meantime, What kinds of things are soothing for her? Rocking? Coloring? Music? She may need regular and predictable “down” times during the day. What does she enjoy doing with you? Can you carve (hard I know!) out a little bit of time a day to do that with her. When she is not acting out, can you talk with her about self-soothing techniques, like deep breathing, hugging an animal, jumping jacks (some kids need to expend energy to relax)? If she can practice doing those things when she is calm, you can then use a “cue” word when she begins to act out to help her remember that she has lots of options to help her calm down. Pay attention to what you want to see more of, even if it seems insignificant to you. And I would talk to your pediatrician . . . I hope that this helps.

      God bless,

  • Thank you for this insight…I am at the end of my tether with my 9 year old sons attention seeking behaviour. He is constantly playing the clown and dominating a room, when given attention he then gets louder and worse! He seems to pick away at the adults in the room to get a reaction. We have also had a recent bout if bullying from another child at school

    It is beginning to affect my new marriage, and I really am at my wits end as I feel I am being pulled by both new husband and son for my attention. I am a very busy working mum (I’m a primary teacher and put in long hours with lots of work bought home) and am exhausted trying to keep everyone happy. Please help!

    • Hi Claire – First of all, let me thank you for your committment to your students – they are blessed to have you. I know that balancing it all can be very challenging. Maybe you could start by taking your son out to dinner – just the two of you (maybe a nice, sit-down restaurant – something special). Tell him what you have noticed about his behavior and that you are wondering if he needs something he is not getting. The behavior is serving a purpose, you just need to help him figure out what that is. You can ask him: What would happen if this (attention-seeking) behavior went away? What would it feel like to not be the clown? Are there other, more appropriate ways that he can get his needs met? Would he like to try a drama camp or some sort of performing arts program? Encourage open discussion- let him know that you are his partner in this and want to help.

      God bless,

  • i have a 11 year old that acts out for the wrong attention, and then finds self in big trouble and then grounded. how should I address the situation?

    • Hi Robert –
      Thanks for stopping by. Without knowing exactly how your child is acting out, I can just give you general insights. First of all, you will need to establish clear rules and consequences when those rules are broken. Delivering consequences in a non-emotional way works best. But the flip side of this is the importance of finding ways to stay connected to your child. All children want attention from their parents – even those who act like they want nothing to do with them. It is important to do things together and to foster mutual interests. Some children at this age start to develop feelings of being the “black sheep” or may feel that “no one loves me” and act out because of those feelings. Sending him/her to the bedroom may be an appropriate consequence, but without lots of positive interactions that consequence could simply become fuel for those feelings of alienation. This article and this one might be helpful in this situation. I hope this gets you headed in the right direcion.
      God bless,
      ~ Laura

      • Hi, I’m having difficulty with my 11 year old girl. She is disrespectful and can’t get along with kids her age. She lies continuously. I spend time with her and show her love but she wants things her way. Her grades are dropping in school as well. Can u help

  • This is so true, and well written. You’ve been busy, and your redesign looks great. I’ve got the feed now, so will follow. I love to read parenting articles that are fun and knowledgeable.