A parent's attention serves as a powerful reward for behavior.

How to Deal With Negative Attention-Seeking Behaviors in Children

by Becky Swain

Let’s clarify an important point – there’s nothing wrong with seeking attention from others and savoring that attention. And children certainly don’t hold a monopoly on attention-seeking behaviors. Parents enjoy receiving attention as well, but they usually exercise discretion related to how they get it. Some children crave attention so much that they exhibit inappropriate behaviors to gain attention from their parents. Surprisingly, although your child craves your attention, she prefers to acquire attention through appropriate behaviors. It’s easy to forget how much your child wants to please you when she pushes your buttons and violates every conceivable boundary. You can help your child learn to demonstrate positive attention-seeking behaviors and minimize negative attention-seeking behaviors.

1 Pay attention to and praise appropriate behaviors, and ignore the negative attention-seeking behavior. It’s easy for parents to fall into a disciplinary rut, where negative behaviors constitute red flags for attention, while acceptable behaviors do not set off a similar alarm. Children are less likely to repeat behaviors that do not have a payoff, and parental attention qualifies as a powerful reward for your child, Purdue University reports.

2 Redirect your child to teach more appropriate replacement behaviors, PBS suggests. Scolding attention-seeking behaviors without suggesting an acceptable behavior leaves your child with little recourse but to repeat the behavior that originally captured your attention.

3 Respond to, rather than react to, your child’s behavior. Even though the challenge can appear daunting, staying in control of your behavior helps your child to focus on your words instead of your anger. When parents remember to model the types of behavior they want their children to emulate, parents help to shape positive behaviors.

4 Maintain consistent consequences for negative attention-seeking behaviors, recommends Kids Health. Communicate rules in language that is appropriate for your child’s level of development, and do not deviate from the consequences associated with the rules. Similarly, recognize and reward positive attention-seeking behaviors in a consistent manner.

5 Look for trends in your child’s behavior. Discovering a pattern in your child’s attention-seeking behavior may provide a tool for prevention. For example, observing that a young child demonstrates problematic attention-seeking behavior after the birth of a sibling indicates that the child vies for attention from her parent. Or, a child who exhibits behavior problems in the evening may communicate fatigue through her challenging behavior.

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