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Kids Zone

My Child Demands Too Much Attention!

My Child Demands Too Much Attention!

Educational Pathways - Issue #8

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We can all identify a child who seems to need an inordinate amount of attention. His teachers are challenged by his needy behavior; his classmates, his friends and his siblings are tolerant, but only up to a point; and his parents are often at wits' end. He is always acting out the adage “negative attention is better than no attention at all.”

Let us examine Yossi H's behavior. Yossi tries to monopolize every discussion. He shows off, often totally inappropriately, and in school he frequently acts like the class clown. His teachers are constantly on alert for “a Yossi outburst”; he seems to shrug off his punishments and that frustrates them even more. They know he wants attention and he is not denied it, but he just can’t seem to get enough. “He is not the only child in the class” his teachers tell the principal. Yossi’s parents admit that they face the same problem at home and they don't know what to do about it; they are tired of coming to school to discuss Yossi’s latest antics.

The most common reason for a child’s misbehavior is his need of attention. The child feels inadequate unless he is constantly at the center of things. He thinks, “I have no place unless people pay attention to me.” His lack of self esteem fuels his craving for attention.

Yossi's manifest behavior is not the only pattern of attention-seeking children, though it is the most obvious. Debbie also needs attention. She is shy, and sometimes appears lazy. Debbi uses her charm to get people to do things for her. If she doesn’t get the attention she seeks she will be overly sensitive; she will pout, cry or withdraw into herself. While it would appear that her behavior is the result of other issues, it is in fact motivated by her need for attention. Her approach is different from Yossi’s. She can be more manipulative, but her objective is the same as Yossi's. Debbie wants attention and she alternates between charm and helplessness to get it.

In order to modify the child’s behavior it is essential to make him part of the solution.

Whether the adults in their life choose to give Yossi and Debbie the inordinate attention they crave just to keep the peace or whether they are constantly becoming annoyed and overreact, their reaction will be counter-productive in either case. The fact is that the children are achieving what they want, and their need and appetite for attention will only grow. So what’s the teacher or the parent to do?

Most child psychologists will agree that in order to modify the child’s behavior it is essential to make him part of the solution. Yossi and Debbie need to understand what motivates their behavior and they need to recognize that in order to be able to generate positive attention they will have to forgo some of the inappropriate attention they are now willing to settle for. It must become worthwhile for them to earn the positive attention they so crave that they will decide to give up the negative attention they normally receive.

Creating a Solution Together

Yossi and Debbi's parents need to develop a solution together with them. The children need to discuss why things aren't working and to start to develop a strategy together. To create a conducive atmosphere, parents should provide a relaxed, non-threatening, opportunity to have a serious talk; for example, a walk in the park, a quiet trip, neither of which is too stimulating so as to preclude a serious discussion nor too confining so as to feel intimidating.

We all need to interact with others and we need the validation of our friends and the approval of our superiors.

They should talk about how everybody needs attention; that we all need to interact with others and we need the validation of our friends and the approval of our superiors. Yet, the better we feel about ourselves and the surer we are about what we are doing, the less we need approval and validation. Because we are all social beings we all have social needs, but when one person overwhelms others with his or her need for recognition and attention, others are frustrated and become unwilling to tolerate it.

The idea is to make an agreement with the child (it works with adolescents just as well) about how much attention-calling behavior you will permit, when and under what circumstances. Here is what should emerge from the talk:

  1. The child must feel that the adult is making a special effort to recognize his needs and his contribution.

  2. The adult will make every effort to show the child approval and appreciation and to call attention to appropriate behavior.

  3. An understanding of a non-intrusive way to make him aware that he is reaching the point of overstepping the agreement.

  4. Inappropriate behavior, calling attention to himself, will be ignored; he will get no attention what so ever if he behaves inappropriately.

  5. The adult will watch for every opportunity to recognize the child's positive behavior and be ready with unexpected compliments; he will look for opportunities to catch him being good.

Helping children learn appropriate and socially acceptable ways to do deal with their world is the responsibility of parents

The consequence of not living up to the agreement is essentially the withdrawal of attention rather than a punitive measure. Shortly, because the child will be constantly recognized for positive behavior, it becomes worthwhile for him to look for positive rather than negative attention. The adult must stick to his side of bargain no matter what and to be sure, it is never as easy as it sounds. In the beginning the child will test the veracity of the agreement and the adult's resolve. He may well increase his bad behavior to test the adult, but it ultimately when followed through faithfully this approach works.

This is the essence of a behavior modification plan, which is at the core of any desired behavior change. In a word, we need to make it worthwhile for Yossi and Debbi to behave as we want and the consequences of noncompliance clear. They will feel so much better getting positive attention that it will no longer be worthwhile to try to get negative attention. In addition their self esteem will increase as they learn to be in better control of their impulses.

When Yossi becomes too loud or when he seems to be unable to stop talking and his father catches his eye and touches his ear as a reminder, Yossi will be expected to tone down. As soon as he does the father will look for an opportunity to complement him.

When Debbi goes into her helpless mode waiting for the attention, she will be ignored. But, her parents will offer a suggestion as to something she might be able to do along with some encouragement. A complement to follow her initiative in doing something she previously sought help for. Her mother will ignore her pouting and give her a signal that its time to do something positive for herself rather than be overly sensitive about someone else. A complement will follow as she takes hold of herself.

Of course if both home and school can be on the same page and coordinate their behavior management plan for Yossi or Debbi then the chance for a successful outcome is greatly enhanced. It is important to remember when things become frustrating, and they will, that helping children learn appropriate and socially acceptable ways to do deal with their world is the responsibility of parents. It is no less an important a part of parenting than helping a child learn to walk and be safe in his environment and it is just as rewarding.

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Discussion (17)
March 31, 2014
Spoiled or just born that way?
I am a mother of four three boys and a girl , one of my sons has been driving me and my husband crazy .
He is the third born and from the time he wakes up till the time he goes to bed all he does is want,want want and I'm not exaggerating it's causing a lot of tension for all of the family.
He is in grade four and has always been a quite shy boy at school but when he gets home as soon as he walks in the door he needs to be number one which is fine I can handle that kind of attention but it's the material things he wants and it's always something.
Every week it's something from a game ,toy,clothing or even a certain kind of hair gel and he bugs and bugs and bugs he goes to bed wanting it and wakes up first thing in the morning asking again if he can have it !!!!
I know what everyone is asking ,,,, do you give in ? And the answer to this is yes sometimes like for clothing or personal hygiene things but my other kids get the same and they don't act like him.
Leanne Farkas
Canada ontario
March 16, 2014
Nonsense in most cases
"parents should provide a relaxed, non-threatening, opportunity to have a serious talk; for example, a walk in the park"

This makes me wonder if you have ever experienced this type of child. There is no reasoning with a child like this. There is no way you can go at it like "let's sit down and get serious". You're dealing with a meth addict that won't remember a conversation by the end of it.
Anonymous
Real Town
October 28, 2013
Response to first comment
As you say, it's your boyfriend's son, not your own. That doesn't entitle you to a whole lot of advice-giving. But a healthy relationship between two adults allows for either one to express opinions and personal feelings about any given situation; all the more so w hen it comes to a child who is part and parcel of the relationship. Speak to your boyfriend about what you see, about what you think; if you decide to marry, you will then have to come to some very clear understandings about how each of the relationships - the adults, each adult with the child, the child with the adults - impacts the others. This is always best done with the guidance of a trained and experienced family counselor. For now, though, it should be safe enough for you to make observations, to be honest about your feelings; you must do so respectfully, non-judgmentally and non-critically.

I hope this is helpful.
Bronya Shaffer
October 15, 2013
I have the same problem, but it's with my boyfriend's 9 year old son. I can't give parental advice because a.) I'm not a parent, just have a lot of siblings and b.) I'm not his mother. My boyfriend has said that it stresses him out, but his son seems to have no boundaries, gets whatever he wants, and acts out constantly to the point of my boyfriend admitting to me that he doesn't like taking him out anywhere because of it. My boyfriend spends a lot of time with his son and at one point I was worried it was because he was dating me that his son was acting out. He assured me that he -always- does this.
How do I share these approaches to my boyfriend?
Anonymous
September 29, 2013
Does this all go for a two year old because my step son is this way, he always gets what he wants and needs, if u tell him no he flips out if he doesn't get what he wants he flips out and his mother gives in, I've tried connecting with her and discussing with her that her son is on his path to becoming like these examples here and yet she don't care... She says she wants to make him happy and give him everything... I have a six year old that is almost perfect with listening and doing the right things even though she is shy and doesn't really reach out to try and so bad things, I've tried time out and everything but it just seems to make him worse... What can I do to change his path of destruction?
Anonymous
September 26, 2013
exhausted mama
While I'm sorry to hear about your situation, it is nice to know that I'm not alone in this. I've tried going to my wife about it in an adult manner, but she gets so defensive and immediately goes for the throat. The thing is, its not only me who has brought this behavior to her attention, and her response is the same every time. The thing that she either doesn't see, or doesn't seem to care about is that the child sees this and then feels justified. She's not open to counseling, because similar to your situation, she passes this off as "normal" behavior. Everyone else has the problem and her child is a victim. I really don't know what to do. As is the case with any issue, the first step is admitting there is a problem. If one simply remains in denial the road to recovery is either extremely long, or non existant. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and thank you for letting me vent. God bless
houston dad
Houston
September 4, 2013
Houston Dad-
What you described is EXACTLY what my home is like with my stepdaughter. When she's at her mom's house and only the other children are here, this is a different home- calmer.I keep telling my husband I feel like our lives revolve around his daughter and her constant needs and wants. If anyone else is eating she wants it too. If anyone gets something, wants something, laughs at something- she must too. My husband says this is how kids are but I disagree having two of my own and having been a teacher for ten years now. This kid has a low self esteem and her own internal struggles with dealing with her mother's irresponsible decisions and she creates these dramas to keep attention on herself. I'm exhausted and feeling like I'm missing out on good quality time with my kids because every chance I get to speak to anyone else is interrupted by her. We've had a family therapist that wasn't working. Need help getting my husband to see reality and need help getting this kid to chill.
Exhausted Mama
Florida
August 31, 2013
extreme case
I am hoping that someone else has had an experience like mine, because while this article somewhat relates, it barely scratches the tip.
I have a step daughter and her need for attention is so extreme that it seems like every day (as long as she is awake) the only activity that is taking place throughout the entire house is her and what she is doing.

She simply can not play by herself. If the family is watching TV, she will do everything from stand in front of the TV, sing songs (as if to be putting on a show) ask repeated questions, bring toys in the living room and play loudly etc.

She is fully aware of the rules and that this is not allowed, but that's another issue. She sees herself as exempt from the same set of rules, or as in equal standing to the adults in the house. (Another issue that i believe is related)
She knows no boundaries, but expects everyone to respect hers. Her mother simply acts as if this is all perfectly normal! Its honestly about to be the end of my marrige.
houston dad
Houston
January 9, 2013
Thank you!
This was perfect article! My daughter is 8, the youngest of 4, the only girl and the only one adopted! So her constant, sometimes manipulative need for attention had me wondering if it was a girl thing, an adoption thing or 'I'm an older, more tired Mom now' thing! I would often be exasperated and say to her, "You have GOT to know that I love you as big as the moon! Why do need to be in my lap or needing my attention ALL the time!!!!

We had started talking about it as "stealing other people's JOY or Attention". Meaning when a brother is sharing with me about something he did well at school etc, she does NOT trump in with her accomplishments. Or when she pouts because she can not put in her brother's birthday cake candles. Guess what, it's not your birthday.

Even sitting and watching a brother play his basketball game, she's practically sitting on my lap with,"hey mom, hey mom, hey mom..." The question always is in my head, am I giving her too much attention or not enough!!!

Thank you
Heidi
Hudson, OH
May 13, 2012
Response to 5/11/12
I'm no expert in E/C education but I do believe that the same general principles hold true. When a child is told firmly "I'm talking to so and so now and I will be with you in few minutes", he may try to insist but a firm teacher who later makes sure to give his private time, can handle the situation. At 4 a child can be taught to wait for his turn at the mother's/teacher's attention.

Be gentle but firm, and follow-up.
Nochem Kaplan
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