Recently, on a weekend when all our kids were home, we dug out the family videos for a trip down memory lane (or, in the case of our daughter-in-law, a crash-course in Jackson family history).
Our kids’ childhood antics were rather hilarious – particularly their clumsy attempts to steal the spotlight when a younger sibling was in the picture. In one scene, little Noah is being coaxed to try his first steps across the living room floor. When he hesitates, Daniel and Bethany literally plow him over in their attempts to prove to both parents and camera that “I can walk too!”
In hindsight, attention-grabbing toddlers can be amusing. But in the moment, it can be frustrating for parents to deal with the annoyance of a child who demands constant attention.
So how can parents respond lovingly to their attention-guzzling children without “giving in” or creating spoiled children?
Look beneath the surface.
What is really driving your child to incessantly tug your hand when you’re on the phone? Is their goal to annoy or distract you, or are they simply hungry for positive connection with their parents? Take a moment to stop, breathe, and get perspective on the goals for the misbehavior — what your child really needs and wants from you. Chances are it’s your love and connection. Then – be glad that you have a child that wants that! Children who are hindered by autism or chronic neglect usually don’t seek an adult’s attention. You have a child that likes connection — and knows an effective way to get it! 😉
Give positive attention, not negative attention.
Oftentimes a child will resort to whatever means necessary to get your attention, whether that means behaving appropriately or inappropriately! If your child is inappropriately demanding instant attention, gently redirect them to a more positive method: “I’m on the phone right now and I’ll play with you when I’m finished.” “I’m in the middle of making dinner right now, but I will set the timer and we can talk in ten minutes. Listen for it to go off.”
Don’t forget to get involved!
In order to be able to defer your child’s request for attention right now, you have to have some “involvement credit” in the bank with them! One dad we know had had several effective discussions with his young daughter about asking for attention in appropriate ways. Imagine his surprise when one day, after several deferrals, she walked up to his desk and blurted, “Dad, if you don’t give me some attention pretty soon I’m going to have to go be naughty!” Be proactive about connecting with your child before they get to the point of feeling upset. If you spend time with them as a regular thing, they will feel less of a need to get upset and be more flexible when you need a few minutes. But make sure that you follow through on your promises, or you might find your child resorting to “having to go be naughty”!
Sometimes we get annoyed with our kids. But remember that, in the words of authors Glasser & Easley, “our challenging children are not out to get us — they are out to get our energy.” The most important thing you can do for your children is to communicate your love to them early and often. If you make that a priority, other things will follow.
Frustrated by constant discipline challenges? Take 15 minutes to read our free ebook When Your Child Misbehaves – Four Strategies for Lasting Change.