When my son was a preschooler, he became naughty when he wanted attention. The most inconvenient times such as holiday meals, phone conversations, grocery trips, or play dates (that were meant for him) were times he exerted his need for the spotlight. Maybe it was because he was an only child, but he seemed to need far more attention than what I expected. The worse part was, he learned that if he wanted attention, he could quickly get it!
We were unskilled disciplinarians at the time and the loud, physical tantrums got a big reaction. Whatever we were previously doing, we immediately stopped and all eyes were on my manipulative monkey! Our frustration grew as his skill for holding us captive evolved. At some point, I turned to my young son and asked, “Are you doing this because you want attention?”
“Yes…I want you to notice me!”
When I heard my TBP explain his reasoning so clearly, I was kind of proud. Not because of the behaviors that I witnessed, but because of his ability to be self-reflective at such a young age. I understood this need and thought that I would help everyone out with a new plan. “Here’s what I want you to do…When you want attention, instead of acting out, use your words to tell us that you need attention.”
“Okay,” my boy said happily. I could see the tiny wheels in his four year old mind spinning! It was as if I had just handed him the missing puzzle piece that he had been seeking!
Initially, this was a fabulous strategy and I was extremely proud of myself. I even shared this incredible knowledge with a friend of mine, struggling with tantrums in her home. “He just wants to be heard, like the rest of us.”
What I didn’t know then…was that his thirst for attention would be endless! No amount of attention seemed to be enough and with that simple phrase that I had provided, I had created an attention addict! He began to use those three words as an excuse for his unwanted behaviors. He used them while I was talking on the phone and during dinners; he expected that I would immediately stop my conversation and ignore the other adults.
I have to say that we went through a challenging time trying to tweak this original plan. We turned to the help of parenting books and experts. One strategy that we learned was “energy goes where attention flows.” We needed to focus on the positives and ignore many of the smaller negatives. It wasn’t easy but, we made the transition and were all better off for it. My parenting techniques have definitely evolved into a more developed toolbox.
I still hear, “I want attention” from my son. On good days, he is able to say the words easily and wait patiently for us to finish what we were doing. How do you see attention-seeking behaviors coming out at your house and how do you balance your child’s need for attention?