Do you children act out to get your attention? Does it work? If it does, then they have no reason to change their behaviour and that can lead to problems and arguments at home.
What is negative attention seeking?
Only in fairy tale realms (or quite often at school when they can revert to being super-ultra polite children from the fairy tale realm) do children go up to their parents and say in a super and mega-polite fashion, “Excuse me mummy dearest, I can see that you are awfully busy running around looking after me, everyone else, the cat and the house and running your own business all while looking absolutely radiant, however, could I please have a moment of your precious time, or possible schedule one in on our family google calendar?”
Has that ever happened? No. Probably not. It’s more likely they beg, moan, whine, plead, literally stand behind you so you trip over them, follow you around (whilst moaning and whining), doing things they and you know plain well they should NOT be doing, or cause a stand up row with their siblings, just to forcing you to stop what you are doing and intervene. And abracadabra – they have your attention because you literally cannot stand it for a moment longer. Or maybe in your house, it´s the baby voice or face they make to get their own way, or the temper tantrums that are ridiculously embarrassing and you have no idea why they can’t see how humiliating it is to behave this way and you will do ANYTHING to make it stop.
All of the above is negative attention seeking behaviour.
The answer to them not realizing how embarrassing it is to behave this way is 2 fold. The first is that they DO know really. The second is because they simply don’t care. They know this is what they can do to get their own way. It’s like a video game – they just need to figure out what DEFCON level of irritating, naughty or begging, manipulative behaviour they need to go to, and bingo – they’ve won. Therefore, why change a winning strategy?
By giving in to this behaviour (which is VERY normal, so you are not alone!) you are essentially rewarding bad behaviour. The action of giving in – even if it is followed up with a condition that you and they know you won’t stick to, is like saying, “Yes, please behave this way. I like it and it means I will give in and you get what you want. You have all the power and control here, while I as the parent have none. Further more, we both know you will do this again and we both know I will give in and I will end up being a frazzled,angry mess.” And you loose every time because they have behaved in unacceptable ways to get what they want. And they are unlikely to stop or grow out of it because why change a winning formula?
So now what?
Without exception, the children I work with openly admit behaving this way to get your attention. All of them. They deliberately behave this way as they know what makes you tick. As children become preteens and teenagers, they know that guilt is a great tool or being mean and then apologizing works.
Honestly, I will tell you, all of them, want to stop and have more secure boundaries that they are expected to adhere to and communicate more positively. And honestly, they want that from you – they need it from you – and you are 100% able to break this cycle. You CAN have the control, and the ability and the skill and the love and all the things that you need to bring this change about. You do.
Ten Tips to Break the Cycle of Negative Attention Seeking
- Like slowing down a fast moving lorry, it takes a little time and concerted effort to slow down and stop these negative behaviours. They re a learned pattern and as such are a default, so there needs to be conscious change – and children have to WANT this change. So, sit them down and make it clear the sherrif is back in town – and that’s you. Share that you don´t like all the negativity at home from either side and you want a happier more positive and safe way of talking to each other that will make everyone happier. As they get older, this should be agreed by all parties. Little ones, the law is the law – and you are the law!
- Tell them you love them and you want to spend as much time with them as possible. Explain, (not excuse) the demands on your time. Tell them you are making spending time with them a top priority which is why you are having this conversation.
- Explain what behaviours are out and work together to come up with a list of more positive ones. For example, things they can say that you know they are trying to get your attention in a positive way, which means you can respond in a positive way.
- Go over your daily routine – identify what is working and what isn’t – and make the changes that are going to make what time you have together more flexible.
- Schedule in a time each day where you can spend quality time together – and plan in what you will do, whether it’s helping with homework, reading a book, playing a game, listening to or reading to them, watching a bit of TV, going for a walk with the dog – anything. By identifying types of activities as special and designated time with you, they will recognize the value behind those times and everyone will appreciate them more.
- You need to come into their world. You might not like the Emoji movie, but if they do and they want to share it with you, then that´s is what it is going to take.
- For teenagers, it is the same – come into their world. Share what you love doing to spend time with them and check in with them if they do too. ASK them what they would like to do to have a bit of time together each day.
- Mean it – it´s not easy to break bad habits or establish new routines. If you day you are going to do something, you need to stick to it. Breaking a promise or your word is a big no-no. Think how that impacts on how you look to your children and how it shows that it´s OK to break your word.
- For every day they go without a certain behaviour, you might like to start a reward chart. Depends, if you as a family are into those. the rewards could be based around time spent together, such as getting a treat after school, watching a movie, playing a game, going to the park etc.
- Are their attentions because you do really need to spend more time with them? Make a list of the things you do in a day. Then prioritize that list against what you feel is important to you as a parent. In what way do your priorities match and support the things you spend your time doing?
Remember – even having a drink together, a talk in the car, a walk are all ways to spend time with your children. Have them help out at home, and chat while you do it.
And if you´re not sure – get in touch, and let´s find that time together.