Many of us were raised hearing the phrase, “He’s just looking for attention, ignore it,” in regards to children’s difficult behaviors. And it’s true—it can seem like your child is pushing your buttons or their siblings’ buttons for no other reason than to just get attention from the others. This can be annoying, frustrating and even infuriating at times.
We want our children to “behave” and attention-seeking behaviors can feel like the opposite. But here is the truth of the matter. Children seek attention because children NEED attention. And when they don’t know how to ask for it, and when they feel they’re not getting it, they act out. They create ways where you have no other choice than to pay attention to them. Of course it’s not the at loving, fun, connection attention that they desire, but it’ll do because at that point you are fully engaged and attending to them.
Ignoring children’s behavior does not work and it does not foster emotional health, resilience or good behavior. It may stop the behavior temporarily. But it may also make them shut down. It may teach them that their needs are not valid and not worthy of being met. But it won’t shift the behavior. The behavior is happening because the child doesn’t know how to express his/her emotions yet. Sometimes this is due to their age and developmental stage, sometimes it’s due to the way emotions are dealt with in the family. Either way, it is possible to help children learn other ways to get attention that don’t involve hurting and upsetting others.
This starts with connection. How we model emotions for our children has everything to do with how they learn to express them. And since emotions are the driving force of behavior, when kids can express their emotions in safe and healthy ways, they don’t need to act out to be understood. And when we can understand and meet them where they’re at, they truly feel seen, their nervous systems regulate and the need for difficult behaviors goes away.
If you are seeing a lot of attention-seeking behaviors in your child, it’s likely that they need more time and connection with you. Be sure and intentionally schedule special play time with them several times a week so that they can process their emotions with you and connect with you.
And teach your children how to ask for attention. “I see that you’re really pushing your sister’s buttons. I’m wondering if you’re trying to get some attention, sweetie. You don’t have to bug your sister to get my attention. You can let me know, ‘Mom I need some attention’ and I would love to give you that attention that you’re needing. Come here, do you want to sit on my lap and read a book together…”
Feel into this—imagine if you received it as a child. When children feel seen, heard, met and understood they ground, their nervous system regulates, and they can act from their wise mind and express themselves in the ways we want to see from them.