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