What’s inside this article: This article covers some of the most common reasons children engage in inappropriate attention-seeking behaviors, what some of those behaviors are, how to recognize attention-seeking, and short term and long term positive parenting solutions. It also includes some family bonding ideas you can try.
Children need to feel connected with their parents, and when that connection is weak, they will turn to attention-seeking behaviors to get the attention they need.
In a connected relationship, there is respect, trust, honesty, acceptance, and equality. Your child will know you genuinely enjoy spending time with them and that they make you happy.
And no, I’m not saying if your child is attention-seeking that you’re a bad parent or that you have a bad relationship with your child.
I don’t think there’s a parent in the world who hasn’t experienced attention-seeking behavior. Often, kids mistakenly believe that in order to be important, they must have your attention. all the time.
The goal is not to make them just stop seeking your attention, but to build a connection strong enough that your child doesn’t feel like they need to seek out attention in negative ways.
What Does Attention Seeking Behavior Look Like?
Everyone needs attention and it’s okay for children to seek attention.
It becomes a problem when you can’t focus your own attention on anything else without your child resorting to misbehavior to revert your focus back on them.
You want your children to know they are still important even when you’re on the phone, using the bathroom, cooking dinner, trying to relax and watch a TV show, or speaking to your spouse or their sibling.
Children are very creative, so attention-seeking behavior can come in many forms.
Those things aren’t too bad, irritating at worst and sometimes we don’t even realize it’s happening.
But other times, attention seeking takes on a more negative form.
Negative Attention Seeking
Basically, if it gets a response out of you, good or bad, it can be an attention-seeking tactic.
How Do You Know Its Attention-Seeking & Not Something Else?
The key to knowing for sure if they’re seeking attention is actually in your own reaction.
How do you react to these behaviors?
If you react verbally by reminding or reprimanding, or if you react by doing things your child can do themselves or things you know they don’t need, then their behavior is effectively getting your attention.
Secondly, how does your child react to your response?
If your child was seeking attention, they’ll respond by doing what you’ve said, at first. They’ll stop clanking their fork, or hitting their brother. They’ll take a drink of water and go back to bed.
But then they’ll start up again in just a few minutes.
They’ll need another drink, hear a noise, go back to arguing when you turn your back, come running to tell you something really important again while you’re on the phone, scream and yell if you don’t acknowledge them.
And that is the key to recognizing attention-seeking behavior.
The behavior resumes when you direct your attention elsewhere.
How to Eliminate Attention-Seeking Behavior
You will never eliminate your child’s need for attention – your attention is one of your child’s basic needs and critical to their development.
But, I’m going to cover several strategies for eliminating negative attention-seeking behavior.
These strategies are divided into two categories – short term strategies and long-term strategies.
You can start doing things right away that make attention-seeking misbehavior ineffective, to help deter the behavior.
However, the long term goal is to actually encourage independence and show your child they are important and they belong even when you need to focus on something other than them.
Short-Term Attention Seeking Strategies
1. Ignore the behavior, but don’t ignore your child.
Does your child do something loud, obnoxious, or irritating because they know it elicits a reaction from you every single time?
Planned ignoring will help stop this behavior. If you simply stop reacting to it, it will no longer be an effective way of getting attention, and your child will stop.
Beware that at first, it will probably get worse.
You’ve always reacted before, so your child will try harder at first, be more intense and persistent. But then, they’ll see that this isn’t going to work and the misbehavior will begin to taper off.
However, be certain that you are only ignoring the behavior, and not ignoring your child completely. If you turn around and walk away from your child, not responding to them at all, it’s going to make them feel worse.
You need to have no reaction to the behavior whatsoever as if it isn’t even happening, but still attend to your child.
For example, if they’re shrieking in the other room while you prepare dinner, don’t point it out, don’t tell them to stop or shush them. But, you can walk into the room and say “Dinner is almost ready, can you help me set the table?”
This initiates a positive engagement while still ignoring the misbehavior.
It might be helpful if you make note of these types of situations at first so you can prepare for them. It’s easy to forget and react in the moment if you’re unprepared since, personally, I can find these types of behaviors triggering.
Redirection is all about leading your child’s focus away from something inappropriate and towards something similar, but more appropriate.
For example, if your child is jumping on the couch you can redirect them to jump on a mini-trampoline.
“The Basic Redirect” is a strategy often used in ABA therapy. You can read more about how to perform a basic redirect here.
Distracting is different from redirecting. With distracting, your goal is to use something completely different to get your child’s attention and distract them from their attention-seeking behavior.
For example, you’re outside gardening and your child starts throwing rocks on the road. You could distract them by saying “Can you please help me pull out these weeds? I can’t do it by myself.”
This combines tip one and tip three. Then, you’ve successfully stopped your child from rock-throwing without bringing attention to it.
Trust me, you don’t need to tell your child to stop throwing rocks. They know they shouldn’t be throwing rocks, they’re just doing it anyway.
4. Warn of the consequences and then let your child choose
If your child is engaging in inappropriate behavior, warn them of what the consequences will be if they continue and then let them choose.
Make sure you choose logical consequences.
For example, if your child is throwing their blocks across the room, tell them “It’s not safe to throw blocks. If you throw them again I will take them away.” and then let your child decide if they are going to play appropriately or lose them.
If your child does throw the blocks again, follow through and take them away. Don’t nag or lecture, don’t give them another chance. Say “It looks like you’ve chosen to have your blocks taken away. You can try playing with them appropriately again later.”
Then you must consistently follow through with the consequence every single time your child engages in the behavior.
They need to know that if they do X, then Y will happen. Just like the law of gravity, what goes up must come down. You don’t ever see objects suspended in mid-air.
For consequences to work your child needs to know what to expect every time and should never see how will mom or dad react as a gamble.
Long-Term Attention Seeking Strategies
In order to stop attention-seeking behavior long-term, your child needs to feel connected, loved, and important even when they aren’t
They also need to learn to enjoy alone time and playing independently.
1. Notice The Good
The first way to start this process is by giving your child lots of positive reinforcement.
You can do this by noticing when they are being good and pointing it out. In the beginning, you’ll need to do this all the time, even with things that they already consistently do well.
This will help build their self-esteem while you’re also ignoring negative behaviors.
Related: Positive Affirmations for Kids
After a couple of days you will notice that instead of seeking attention negatively, they’ll start trying to get you to notice the good things they’re doing.
For example, my daughter would clear her throat really loudly while hanging up her jacket so I would look over and notice what she was doing.
To learn more about using planned positive reinforcement and to get a printable planner visit this post.
2. Give Your Full Focus
When your child is talking to you, give them your full focus.
Put down your phone, pause the TV, stop whatever you’re doing and listen to them. Have you ever been trying to talk to somebody and they’re staring at their phone saying “uh-huh … no, I’m listening…”? Don’t do that to your children.
Your children need to feel that you care about what they have to say and you want to listen to them.
If you’re unable to give them your attention at the moment, tell them. It’s totally okay to need to focus on other responsibilities, just be sure to communicate that.
For example, if your child is trying to tell you something about their day you could say “I would really love to talk to you about your day but I’m in the middle of making dinner at the moment. How about we sit down together and talk when I’m finished?“
3. Spend Quality Time Together
This is the most important factor in your long-term strategy.
In order for children to stop negatively seeking attention, they need to know that you genuinely care about them and enjoy being with them.
They need to feel important. The best way to build that bond is by spending quality time together.
If you have more than one child you need to do this with each of them individually as well as all together. Even if it’s something as simple as spending 15 minutes of one on one time with each child per day.
There will be more quality time ideas below.
4. Quiet Time
It’s important for children to learn how to enjoy spending time on their own, playing independently and learning to manage their boredom on their own.
One great way to do this is with quiet time. As soon as my children outgrew naps we started having a quiet time each day.
Quiet time is spent alone in their bedrooms independently. During this time they can do anything from reading, coloring, playing with toys, or playing video games.
It’s a great way to keep the whole house quiet so everyone can take some time to decompress.
5. Connect Every Morning
Add time to connect with your child first thing in the morning, every day. Make this part of your morning routine.
We’re always running around, rushed to get ready and out the door. But something as simple as spending the first 5 minutes of your child’s day with them, cuddling them, chatting with them and reminding them that you love them, makes a world of difference.
Family Bonding Ideas
As I mentioned above, spending quality time together as a family is an important aspect of making your child feel important and connected to you.
It’s also important to find ways to show them you care even when you aren’t directly focusing on them.
Here are some family bonding ideas to get you started.
I can’t promise you that this post is going to solve all of your behavior woes. Children act out for many reasons. It’s important to remember that behavior is communication.
When your child engages in negative attention-seeking behavior they’re trying to tell you “I need to feel like I matter and that I’m important”.
These positive parenting ideas will help you make sure your child does feel important so that they don’t feel like acting out or pestering you in order to get your attention.