“Whenever I give him attention, he just wants more of it”
“Won’t I just be giving in if I spend more time with him?”
Society has constantly shared the message with parents that kids who seek out attention are bad, and that by giving in, parents will be spoiling their child.
Is this really true though? What happens when those kids grow up?
For children, their behaviours are their strongest language. It is how they tell us things are not ok for them, or that they need help. When they are coping well, children can play independently, they are settled and they are generally easier to parent. However, when things aren’t going well, we will see it in behaviours such as making poor challenges, pushing parents’ buttons, and seeking attention. Until children’s brains are developed enough to talk about how they feel, around 8 to 9 years for the average child, their behaviours are our only indicator of what is happening for them.
So, if my child is just seeking attention, I need to not give it to them?
Unfortunately, this doesn’t typically work. If children can’t get the attention they need, they will increase in behaviours that give them attention, and this is usually negative. Whereas, if you provide them with lots of positive attention, you teach your child that the easiest way to have their needs met, is by behaving positively. Remember, children turn to us, as we as their parents and carers are their safe place, the people they trust to look after them, care for them and love them, and it’s our job to provide that space.
Ok, so how do I give positive attention then?
In sessions, we teach parents to provide a safe therapeutic space at home, where kids learn they can have their needs met without needing to demand attention. This space uses play, and some simple language techniques to bathe the child in positive attention.
The language techniques we use are:
- Reflective listening – this is where you are saying back to your child what they have said. It can be both exactly as they said it, or paraphrased. Reflective listening shows your child you really hear what they are saying and that it is important to you.
- Labeled Praise – All parents know that praise is great for a child, and there are ways to make it even stronger. Labeled praise is when you explain specifically what your child has done that makes you happy. For example, if they are sitting quietly, rather than just saying “good child”, labeled praise would be “thanks so much for sitting quietly”.
- Observations- By watching and talking about what play your child does, you are helping them to organise their play, and reassures them that they are doing the right thing. It also makes them feel important and that they matter.
By practicing these skills at home with your child, you can provide them with the attention they need to feel secure, and reduce the negative attention-seeking.