It’s no joke that kids need attention. Actually, every single one of us needs attention. It’s a basic need that when goes unmet, many problems arise. From physical neglect to low self-worth, a lack of attention comes at a high cost. So, it makes sense that kids (and some adults) will go to great lengths to make sure that they are seen and heard. Kids will take any attention, even negative attention, over nothing at all. This is where a lot of behavioral issues can stem– the desperate, biological need to get attention, even by misbehaving.
So if needing attention can lead to misbehaving, how do you deal with that? You give the kid attention. Lots and lots of it. You heap it on them before they realize they need it. When you understand that misbehavior can serve as a request for attention, you also understand your child. Their seemingly “bad” behavior becomes less threatening and shameful, and more resolvable.
The next time you find yourself annoyed by your child, consider if their pestering might be a means to get your attention. Try to then lean into that need, knowing that it is indicative of the importance of your role in your child’s life. Simple ways to meet the need for attention:
- Touch them! Hug them, pick them up, give them a high five.
- Give words to the behavior. Help them feel seen and raise their awareness of their actions. “You keep grabbing my phone out of my hands. I wonder if you would rather me look at you than this article I’m reading? I would love to look at you! Next time ask and don’t grab my phone.”
- Read them stories. Play board games. Get on the floor and look at whatever they are doing. Ask if you can join them.
- “Track” their behavior by verbally repeating what you see them do, just like a sportscaster would repeat the on-field action in a play-by-play. “I see you putting away your toys just like I asked you. You are a great helper to our family!”
- Sing with them. Make up silly songs that include their name and things they enjoy.
- What would you add? What works with your kids?
Looking back, can you remember any desperate ways you “asked” for attention as a kid or teenager? Oh the stories I could tell! Do you remember any times you felt truly seen or heard? Who filled up your tank? I would love to hear!