"I have an 8-year-old daughter who said that she needs attention. She is the only child and I think she is getting 110%. How can I positively help her?"
It's normal for kids to need attention and approval. However, attention-seeking becomes a problem when it happens all the time. Even charming attention-seeking can become controlling. Many kids make tragedies out of trivial concerns to get your sympathy. Excessive attention-seeking results in a situation where your youngster commands your life.
Many kids misbehave to get attention. The most notorious reason for misbehavior in young kids, this can be the seed for discipline problems in later childhood and adolescence.
Your goal is not to eliminate your youngster's need for attention and approval. When handled correctly, your youngster's need for attention can be a helpful tool for improving your youngster's behavior. Eliminate not the need for attention, but those attention- seeking behaviors that are excessive or unacceptable. A mother who says, "Sarah, I know that you want me to stay and paint with you. I am busy now. If you can be patient and paint by yourself for ten minutes, I'll be able to spend some time with you then," is giving Sarah an opportunity to have the attention that she wants and needs. She is not giving in to nagging.
How Much Attention Is Too Much?
That depends on you. How much attention-seeking can you tolerate? The rule is that kids will seek as much attention as you give them. You must strike a balance between how much your kids want and how much you can give. Even normal attention-seeking can drive you crazy on some days.
Do not let your kid's need for attention turn into demands for attention. When kids do not get enough attention, they resort to outbursts, tantrums, nagging, teasing, and other annoying behaviors. They think, "If I can't get attention by being good, then I'll misbehave to get Mom's attention."
Three Kinds of Attention—
Adult attention and approval are among the strongest rewards for kids. Unfortunately, moms & dads seldom use attention wisely. There are three kinds of attention:
· Positive Attention
· Negative Attention
· No Attention
When you give your kids attention and approval for being well behaved, they are getting positive attention. Positive attention means catching kids being good. Focus on positive behavior. Positive attention can be words of praise or encouragement, closeness, hugs, or a pat on the back. A pleasant note in your youngster's lunch box works well. Positive attention increases good behavior.
When you give your youngster attention for misbehavior, you are giving negative attention. Negative attention typically begins when you become upset. You follow with threats, interrogation, and lectures. Negative attention is not a punishment; it is a reward. Negative attention does not punish misbehavior, but increases it.
What is the easiest way to capture your attention-sitting quietly or misbehaving? When kids do not receive attention in a positive way, they will get your attention any way they can. Do not pay attention to misbehavior. Pay attention to good behavior.
Avoid this scenario:
James and David are sitting quietly and watching Saturday-morning cartoons for thirty minutes. Everything is peaceful. Father is working on the computer. Suddenly, an argument erupts: "It's my turn to pick a show." Father charges into the room. He turns off the television, scolds the two kids, and sends them to their rooms.
For thirty minutes, these kids were well behaved. Father said nothing to them about how well they were doing. Nothing was said about how quiet they were. Nothing was said about how well they were cooperating. The moment there was trouble, Father was instantly mobilized. Father did not give them any positive attention while they were being good. When they began misbehaving, Father rushed in with plenty of negative attention.
Negative attention teaches kids how to manipulate and get their way. They learn to be troublesome. They learn how to interrupt you. They learn how to control you. Negative attention teaches kids how to tease, nag, and annoy. It teaches kids to aggravate, irritate, and exasperate. We teach this by not paying attention to our kids when they are behaving appropriately, and by paying attention to them when they are misbehaving.
I have worked with hundreds of moms & dads who have taught their kids to be negative attention seekers. I have never met a parent who taught this deliberately. When you attend to the negative and ignore the positive, you teach your kids to behave in a negative way. Your youngster will misbehave to get your attention in the future.
Do not wait for misbehavior to happen. Do not take good behavior for granted. We do this with teenagers. We come to expect good behavior, and overlook their efforts. When a youngster demonstrates good behavior, notice it. Look for it. The more you notice, the more you will find. You will get more good behavior in the future. Anyone can catch kids being bad. Turn this around. Catch them being good. It's not easy. It takes practice.
Statistics show that the average American parent spends seven minutes a week with each of their kids. Do better than average. Telling your kids that you love them is not enough. Show them that you love them. Spend ten minutes of quality time with each youngster every day. No excuses, like I was just too busy today, or I didn't have time. We are all too busy.
In many families, both moms & dads work. Some moms & dads work two jobs. Your most important job is being a parent. When you come home after work, give the first thirty minutes to your kids. Do not be the moms & dads whose only hour with their daughter this week was in the principal's office or at the police station. Write your kids into your plan book. Make an appointment with each of your kids every day. Go for a walk and listen to what is happening in their lives. Turn off the TV for an hour and talk.
How to Ignore—
When you ignore misbehavior, you are giving no attention. Because attention is rewarding to kids, withholding attention can be an effective punishment. Withholding attention can weaken a misbehavior. When your youngster misbehaves to get your attention, ignore the misbehavior. Ignore your youngster's inappropriate demands for attention. You will weaken those demands and extinguish the misbehavior.
Some moms & dads find this hard to believe; they think that if a youngster is misbehaving, he must be punished. This is not true. Ignoring demands for attention is the best cure. When you ignore consistently, you will teach your youngster that misbehavior is not paid off with attention. Temper tantrums need an audience. Take the audience away, and there is no point to having a tantrum. Do not forget to redirect. Teach kids appropriate ways to get attention. "My ears do not listen to whining. Please ask in a soft voice."
When to Ignore—
Ignoring does not mean ignoring the problem. It means ignoring demands for negative attention. There are many misbehaviors that you should not ignore. Some misbehavior should be punished. Deciding when to ignore or when to punish is not easy, and there are no exact rules. It takes timing and judgment. When your youngster misbehaves to get attention, ignore it. If your youngster does not stop in two or three minutes, give him a reminder. Tell your youngster, "I do not respond to whining. When you stop, we'll talk." Wait another minute or two. If he still does not stop, then tell your youngster to stop or he will be punished: "Stop now, or you will go to time-out."
If you get angry or let your youngster push your buttons, you lose. If you must use a punishment, dispense the punishment without anger. If you get angry, then your youngster has succeeded in getting the negative attention that he was after. If you feel yourself getting angry, walk away. Cool off. If you give in, you will be providing your youngster with an attention payoff. You will be rewarding a misbehavior.
Do not take good behavior for granted: give your kids positive attention when they are behaving. Ignore demands for attention such as teasing and whining; giving in to these demands encourages kids to misbehave to get attention. Understanding these ideas is easy, but practicing them is difficult. You are worth it. Make the commitment. Your kids are worth it, too.
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