“He’s just doing it to get your attention”
You may have heard this type of comment from your partner, parents or friends whenever your child is behaving in ways that push your buttons. You might even have come to believe it yourself. Because what other explanation could there possibly be when your child says A when you say B or keeps rocking on the chair despite you having warned him that he’ll be standing for the remainder of the meal if he continues to do so?
At first glance this looks like attention seeking behaviour. And maybe it is. But let’s dig a little deeper – and get clear on what this interpretation propels us to do – or not do. Because we often loose sight of the deeper reason for these types of dynamics. And in doing so we miss so many opportunities to bring resolve and get to know each other better – as opposed to loosing our temper and giving harsh consequences.
How you interpret your child determines how you respond to your child
I once came across a proverb that goes:
“I am not who I think I am. I am not who you think I am. I am who I think you think I am.”
Once I managed to wrap my head around this statement it quickly became one of the most profound truths I’ve come across. Because how our child thinks we view him in every moment gives rise to how he sees himself. And therefore, how he behaves.
You only need to think about going to shop and having the vigilant and judgemental eyes of a security guard track your every step to know that in moments like these, you almost begin to fret that you have in fact taken something without paying. Being seen to be a potential suspect is enough to elicit this type of paranoia.
The same goes where our child is concerned. When we view our child’s behaviour as attention seeking and testing not only does our child come to think of him / herself as annoying and disruptive – but your response is likely to be dismissive. Which in turn gives rise to more of the same unwanted behaviours.
The real reason for this behaviour
99% of the time these types of behaviours are not about attention but a call for connection. Or contact. Children have immature ways of seeking to have their overriding question answered by us:
“Do you see me? Do I matter”?
A willingness on our part to view the behaviour that triggers us in this light – will open the door to a much more loving and secure relationship. One that sees you far less frequently having to give ultimatums, threaten with 1.2.3..or else and loosing your temper.
Answer the question through your response
“I’d like you to not rock on your chair”
“Please stop climbing on me”
This is often all we will need to say if we are willing to respond to our child’s request for connection through what happens next. Rather than just giving a stop command – it can be useful to either add a;
“You can come draw with me”
or turn on the music and dance, play it or cuddle – because this can redirect your child towards ways that you ARE willing to connect.
As long as we are willing to become present and give our positive attention our child’s willingness to stop testing behaviours increases. His needs have been met.
Whether connection to us or connection to themselves our children – and young ones especially – deeply depend on our willingness to help them to re-establish it. Long days away from home will often see our children needing their connection cup filling. Knowing this, ways to meet this need before your child has to ask for it in unwanted ways include:
- Reading a book with you
- Listening to soothing music while laying a puzzle on the floor
- Giving your full attention while listening to whatever your child is telling you
- Playing hide / seek
- Playing airplane by lying on the floor
- Going for a walk
- Putting your phone to one side or on silent for a few hours
- Include the kids in cooking
- Sit down and watch a program together while cuddling up
Next time your child is ‘attention seeking’ – try to reframe this behaviour and pretend as if your child is asking you a question:
“Do you see me”
“Where are you”
“Do I matter”
And know that whatever you do – your loving presence is often more than enough