How to overcome your child's attention-seeking behaviour

With youngsters deluging social media with attention-seeking videos, it’s your duty to ensure that they don't fall prey to this behaviour. But if they already have, here’s how you can deal with it.

By Akshaya Ganesh  • 11 min read

How to overcome your child's attention-seeking behaviour

Imagine making your way up to the top of a 1000 feet tall skyscraper and slowly walking to the edge of the terrace. But once there, you realise to your horror that there is no barricade to prevent you from falling down. Would you be frightened? Now, imagine your child doing the same thing. Only, she decides to hang off the edge just holding on to the hand of her friend, and nothing else to prevent her from falling. And why did she put her life in such grave danger? Just to take a photograph! Now, how does that make you feel? Would you applaud her courage, or would you reprimand her for her attention-seeking behaviour?

A few days ago, 23-year-old Russian model Viktoria Odintcova hit the headlines for her daredevil photoshoot from the top of Cayan tower, a skyscraper in Dubai. The photos and videos of her crazy stunt were circulated all over social media, evoking a mixed response; some were awed by her daredevilry but many criticised it as well. While Odintcova claimed the act to be an opportunity to face her fears, many believed this to be just another attention-seeking stunt.

However, should this concern you? Well, yes. For today, many teenagers who are active on various social media platforms have access to such viral content. Imagine the impact it can have on your teen’s developing brain, seeing someone close to his age performing such acts and posting them online?

Why are some kids attention-seeking?

Before you decide to try and disengage your child from social media, it is important to understand why some children display attention-seeking behaviour. It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to guess that lack of attention is the key reason why children crave attention. Maybe you are busy with work and don’t spend enough time with your child? Perhaps, you are too engrossed in taking care of his sibling? Or, maybe, you are so busy sorting out your own issues that you haven’t been able to shower him with enough attention?

In her article published in PsychCentral, Dr Marie Hartwell-Walker, a licensed psychologist, mentions that by trial and error, children try to figure out what makes adults give them attention and what drives them away. They do everything to ensure that they get a positive response and attention from an adult. However, the child can become desperate when he doesn’t get a response. Dr Marie further says, “Abandonment threatens a child’s emotional and physical survival. Lacking enough positive interaction, a child will develop negative tactics to re-engage the adults. Being scolded, nagged, reminded, and punished is far better than being ignored. By finding ways to be personally addressed by an exasperated or angry adult, the child makes sure that at least he isn’t forgotten.”

The vice versa is also equally true. If you give your child too much attention, then she can grow up with the thought that she’s the centre of your universe. James Lehman in his article published in Empowering Parents says, “Parents often naturally make their children feel like they’re the center of the universe. Let’s face it, when kids are young, they demand a great deal of care. That level of attention, however, should diminish gradually as children get older. Let me put it this way: it’s great feeding a one-year-old, but nobody wants to feed a seven-year-old. The job I’m describing, of course, is breaking the child away physically. There’s also a powerful emotional connection that many parents have trouble managing, and they sometimes get trapped by emotionally making their child feel like he’s the center of the universe.”

Apart from this, some children can also be attention-seeking because of medical conditions such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Children with such disorders show specific signs of inattention, hyperactivity and/or impulsivity, according to WebMD.

Click here to know more about ADHD and parenting a child with ADHD 

What can you do?

Whatever be the reason for your child demonstrating attention-seeking behaviour, it is your duty to guide him towards the right path and make sure his behaviour doesn’t get the better of him. Here are a few tips to help you deal with your attention-seeking child:

1. Lay down ground rules:

First things first. Sit your child down and explain what is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t. Tell her that displaying unwanted behaviour will not fetch her any attention. However, remember to have the conversation with her when you both are in a good mood. James Lehman also suggests giving alternate options to her attention-seeking behaviour like writing a journal. He says, “Be sure to have some other options prepared for them, such as the journal suggestion. “Instead of starting fights with your sister, or ruining the evening for everyone with your bad mood, you can write about it in a journal. I can talk to you every night at a certain time." This way, your child’s needs are being addressed and they feel important, but you’re not letting them dominate the house.”

2. Give him positive attention:

When you commend your child’s good behaviour, you give him positive attention. This will help him grow. An article published in familyeducation states, “When you give your children attention and approval for being well behaved, they are getting positive attention. Positive attention means catching children being good. Focus on positive behaviour. Positive attention can be words of praise or encouragement, closeness, hugs, or a pat on the back. A pleasant note in your child's lunch box works well. Positive attention increases good behaviour.”

3. Don’t give her misbehaviours any attention:

While you praise her good behaviour, make sure that you do not give any attention whatsoever to her bad behaviour. As, when you give her attention for his wrongs, it encourages her to continue misbehaving because it is fetching her the attention she wants. However, remember to not nag or scold her, as it can keep the negative conversation going. Dr Marie says in her article, “When the child misbehaves, resist the temptation to lecture, nag, scold, yell, or punish. Negative reactions will only keep the negative interaction going. Instead, simply quietly send her to timeout (no more than one minute per year of age). The less talking about the misbehaviour, the better. When the time’s up, invite her to come back to join the family. Give her reassurance that you know she can behave now. Then find a way to engage with her positively for at least a few minutes before moving on. The same principle holds for older kids.”

4. Be consistent:

Consistency is the key. Remember to observe your child closely and see how he is developing. Stick to your rules and continue encouraging him for his good behaviour and ignoring his misbehaviour.

There’s always a way out

Before we sign off, let’s pose a question to you – what would you do if it was your child in Viktoria’s place? Would you be awed by her act, or would you ignore her deed? If you’d choose the latter, then also remember to not nag, yell or dwell too much on it. Ignore the act, as any form of attention, even negative, is still attention. So, don’t converse about bad behaviours but ensure that you motivate your child’s positive side by applauding her display of positive behaviour. Have patience, for it might take time to mould the way your child conducts herself, but it is possible. And, remember, your role is crucial in changing your child’s behaviour for the better.

Looking for fun ways to keep your preschooler engaged at home during the pandemic? Check out Little Learners at Home, a home learning programme specifically designed for 3 to 5 year olds by our team of experts.

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