How to Handle a Child with Attention-Seeking Behavior


Young children seek attention. Attention ensures the survival of very young children. However, children can also push their parents to the absolute limit with their demands to be the star attraction. Some children are able to turn any situation to their own advantage—as though they have an intuitive knowledge of their parents’ weak spots. In these circumstances, you may feel you are at the end of your tether, especially when such behavior appears in public.

You can change the way your attention-seeking child be­haves, without becoming too extreme. The first step to take when trying to counter your child’s demands—whether she’s a three-month-old infant or a three-year-old child—is to have a closer look at what is happening. Because an element of learn­ing is involved in your child’s behavior, to evaluate her behav­ior properly you have to understand three basic principles of learning theory:

  • If something that your child regards as positive immediately fol­lows one of her actions, then there is a high probability she will repeat the action. When the link between your child’s behav­ior and the result is favorable, she will repeat the behavior.

How to Handle a Child with Attention Seeking Behavior  Attention Seeking1

  • If something that your child regards as negative immediately fol­lows one of her actions, then there is a lower probability she will repeat the action. When the link between your child’s behav­ior and the result is unfavorable, she probably won’t repeat the behavior.
  • Your child may like some aspect of what’s happening, even though you don’t. Many babies and young children would rather have any form of parental attention than be ignored. Although you may think that screaming at your child, as you jump up and down having your own tantrum, will dis­courage your child’s inappropriate behavior, the reprimand may be attractive from her point of view. Any attention is better than no attention at all, and besides, you’re giving her a good show.

From these principles arise the following practical sugges­tions for managing an attention-seeking child. First, give your child what she wants—that is, attention—but give it at varying times for different actions. If you pay attention to your child only when she is disobedient, then she will quickly learn to act up every time she wants your attention. She should be given attention spontaneously, when she is not expecting it. That’s why it is crucial for you to play with your child when she is set­tled and contented, and to praise her when she is behaving well. That takes away your child’s desire to misbehave to get your attention.

Second, ignore negative attention-seeking behavior, when possible. On many occasions, punishment has no effect what­soever, except, perhaps, to encourage your child to continue misbehaving. Ignoring the undesirable behavior can be very effective—though, admittedly, this is a very difficult strategy, requiring strong resolve and assessment of the immediate situ­ation. One North American expert recommends intervening when the behavior is “life threatening, morally threatening, or harmful to others.” Remember, a solid refusal to respond to your child’s negative attention-seeking behavior can discourage such behavior.

No method of management is guaranteed to work every time with every child, and the above suggestions will not neces­sarily bring about an instant improvement in your child’s behav­ior. They are simply strategies to provide a starting point for more effective ways of coping with your child’s difficult behav­ior. In time, if such strategies are applied consistently, they will have a positive effect. Otherwise, try a new approach. Usually, a three-week trial period will show the impact of a new strategy.

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  4. How to Use Ignoring to Discourage Your Child’s Misbehavior
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About the Author: Alan Kennon lives a very happy life with two kids and a lovely wife. He likes to share his life time experiences with others about how they can improve their lifestyle and personality.

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