My husband and I work full-time and have three children in elementary school. They are constantly seeking attention and we try to give them our best, but they always demand more. I know all kids seek attention, but it is getting out of hand. Any tips?
Attention-seeking is universal, especially with younger children. But, when kids seem “locked-in” to an attention-seeking mode, combining the “planned ignoring,” “catch them being good,” “fair-pairs” and “time-out” strategies usually improve the situation. Essentially, try to ignore undue attention-seeking as best you can and give them praise, closeness, hugs and a pat on the back for acting appropriately.
For example, I counseled a parent named Donna. She listed her children’s negative, attention-seeking behaviors along with “fair-pairs,” the opposite of them. The biggest annoyance was her children arguing over which programs to watch, so when she was washing dishes and noticed them watching television in peace, she put down the dish towel, sat with them for a spell, and told them how much she appreciated their getting along. The favorite dessert was never served immediately after dinner. Instead, she brought it in the TV room on a tray and the three of them would enjoy it while watching television together. The dishes could wait a few minutes!
Applying fair-pairs helped Donna catch her children being good and to notice their praise-able behaviors. She continued to put down the dish towel and give them attention and approval when they were “watching television in harmony” (as she listed it). When arguments took place, she refrained from storming into the TV room to nag, scold, ground, reprimand, lecture, moralize and preach, which actually reinforced the very behaviors she wanted to stop. Instead, she executed “planned ignoring” by using headphones and listening to her favorite music on Pandora while finishing the dishes.
Especially for the many families with both parents working, it benefits to catch children being good and not take their praiseworthy behaviors for granted. Studies reveal that the average American parent spends seven minutes a week per child. Why not top that average? Write into your week-at-a-glance calendar special time with your children — go to the library for story time, make a cake (use ready-made mix!), read a book together, play Legos or a board game, color or finger paint, make a snowman, walk through Central Park, visit a pet store — the list is endless.
Yes, it’s normal for children to seek attention from others, for it is a fundamental human need. But, when it gets out of hand, as you stated, clear boundaries need to be set for absolutely unacceptable behaviors. No child can be the center of attention all the time, so Donna calmly and with few words applied time-out by making them take their show on the road, to their respective bedrooms. It’s difficult to be the center of attention without an audience.
Some say parenting is one of the most difficult jobs on earth, but it teaches you the meaning of unconditional love. Your three children are the greatest gift you will ever receive, so I hope these four strategies that worked well for Donna will help you, too.
Robert Morton is a retired school psychologist and adjunct professor in the School of Leadership & Policy Studies at Bowling Green State University. Contact him at the Family Journal (www.famil
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