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Attention seeking behavior can be very frustrating and difficult to handle! Here is one powerful way to help kids who ask for attention all the time and stop this behavior in a gentle way.
In November last year, I was going through one of the most challenging periods in my life.
We were preparing to move to California and I had a lot of things to solve before moving far away from home! My husband was already there for some weeks, so I was alone with Bogdan (who was 3 at that time) and with a huge to-do list.
Every day I was doing my best to solve the tasks on my list but the progress seemed so slow that I felt totally overwhelmed!
And in the middle of all this chaos, my son was more demanding than ever! I knew that the absence of his dad was affecting him a lot but his behavior felt so frustrating!
He always has been an independent child but in that period it seemed that he wasn’t able to do anything on his own.
He asked for my help for things that he was perfectly capable of doing, just to see if I would help him. If he saw me focusing on something else, he would find a way to interrupt me with a request or a question.
Setting firm limits ended in a lot of tears or screams that were so hard to handle in that difficult period!
Soon he started to find new ways to seek my attention. Some very destructive ways! Basically, he did almost all the things that he knew that weren’t allowed in our house.
He jumped from the TV table. He turned on the empty washing machine. Or he even took out the garbage bag and poured in the middle of the kitchen.
I knew that the big change in our life was bringing him many strong feelings that he just couldn’t handle. But even if I tried to be gentle and understanding, I was running out of patience.
Nothing really seemed to work!
The explanations were useless because he already knew that what he did was wrong. In fact, knowing that those things were wrong was exactly the reason why he was doing them!
My first strategy was to focus his attention on other activities (more enjoyable for him and less frustrating for me). I prepared some busy boxes and I even borrowed some new toys for him to play with.
This seemed to be efficient at the beginning but after a while, he started to find destructive ways of playing. I know that I needed to try something else but I had no idea what to do!
Then one morning, as I was focused on filling in a form on my computer, he entered the room and started asking for my attention. He wanted milk, then he wanted a toy that was on a high shelf. I helped him.
Then he said that he broke the wooden train and he cannot repair it on his own (although he did this many times before).
As soon as I was trying to return to my computer, he had another demand or complaint. I was so frustrated! He had my attention before and during the breakfast and I just wanted 10 quiet minutes to finish what I was doing.
I told him that I need a moment to finish and asked him to wait. He immediately started to cry as loud as he could.
In that moment, I just wanted to take my laptop and go to the other room, leaving him on the floor. But I knew that this would only make things worse.
So instead, I sat down next to him and I told him:
– “I’m sorry to see you so sad! I think that I was wrong before. There is something much more important to do now than filling in that form.”
He stopped crying and looked at me surprised.
– “I think that your love bucket is empty and I need to help you fill it in again!”
– “What is a love bucket?”, he asked.
– “A love bucket is a place where we store all the things that make us feel happy and loved. Sometimes when this bucket is empty, we feel sad or angry. And we do things that we don’t really want to do, just because we feel bad or hurt.”
His eyes filled with tears. He put his hand on my hand and looked into my eyes.
– “And how do I fill the bucket, mom?”
– “We need to put there many things that make you feel loved and happy. We can start with some hugs and kisses. If it’s still not full then we can cuddle and read a nice story. If it’s still not enough, I can chase you through all the house and give you a strong, loving hug anytime I catch you!”
– “Yes, I want this!”, he said and a big smile appeared on his face.
And this is exactly what we did!
First, I gave him many hugs and kisses and he giggled happily in my arms. I asked him if the bucket is full and he said that there is still some room in the bucket.
photo credit: VGstockstudio / shutterstock.com
So we cuddled back in bed and we read a story about the love between a mom and her child. I could see that he was feeling a lot better.
At the end, I asked him if the bucket is full.
– “We still need to do the race!”, he said.
So I chased him all over the house. He ran and laughed so much!
Then, after one of the big hugs that I gave him every time I caught him, he stopped and said:
– “I think that my bucket is full now! You were right!”
I smiled and just looked at him for a while as he went to play with his cars. He was finally playing quietly and happy!
Not only that I was able to finish filling in the form on my computer but I had enough time to pack some boxes without any interruptions.
In the next days, his behavior was so much better! He still needed my attention but he liked the idea of a love bucket so he came to me and asked me how we can fill his bucket. No more destructive ideas. No more asking for help with everything!
The idea of a love bucket is something that I learned from several of my favorite parenting books.
When the children’s emotional tank is empty, they act out and engage in all sorts of negative behavior. Some time ago, I read a quote that resonated with me and that explains this concept in such a simple, yet powerful way:
“The children who need love the most will always ask for it in the most unloving ways.” – Russel Barkley
This is so true!
For me, the attention seeking behavior is very frustrating. It’s one of the triggers that make me angry and this makes it even more difficult to handle.
But the idea of the love bucket is the most powerful way that I found to solve this! And it works!
Here are some of the other things that help me handle these difficult moments:
– Understanding that a child who seeks attention all the time has a legitimate need.
It’s not the need that he is verbally expressing but the one that is hidden inside him. A child who asks for attention really needs it!
Sometimes we get the impression that we offer a lot of attention to our kids but they still ask for more! The reason behind this is that we haven’t found the right way to fulfill the child’s need.
We need to take a step back and try to identify what that real need is and make our best to help the child overcome the difficult moment.
photo credit: Nina Buday / shutterstock.com
– Being understanding doesn’t mean giving up rules.
I did this mistake at some point. I was so tired and frustrated that I felt that I have no more energy to set limits and follow through. So I gave up some of the limits that were important to me.
This was such a big mistake!
Not only that the attention seeking behavior didn’t stop but it became worse and I felt much more overwhelmed!
Setting firm limits is always important! Limits help the child feel safe. Also, setting a limit can help the child release some of their frustrations through cry or even a tantrum. And this is much better than letting those frustrations accumulate!
Here is our simple (and effective) method of setting limits that helps me in all the difficult moments: How to set limits with young kids in an effective and gentle way in 3 simple steps.
– Connecting is more important than correcting.
Most of the negative behaviors that are meant to seek our attention are caused by the child’s strong emotions. In most cases, the child already knows (rationally) that the behavior is wrong but he doesn’t have enough self-control to prevent it.
So lecturing, nagging, yelling, or punishing are not solving the problem!
The child needs to feel connected to be able to overcome the strong emotions and learn to self-regulate.
I wrote more about the power of connection here: The most powerful way to overcome difficult parenting moments. At the end of this article, you can also join our Positive Connection Challenge, where I share many tips and ideas for building a strong connection with your child.
photo credit: Monkey Business Images / shutterstock.com
– Talking with the child about emotions and the “emotional tank” in a regular manner.
If we give kids the tools to manage their emotions better and to be able to self-regulate when they face a challenging moment, we can prevent many parenting issues.
Talking about feeling and the “love bucket” during “quiet periods” help children understand what they are feeling and behave better.
Attention seeking behavior can be very challenging and exhausting! But there are things that can really make things easier.
If you are facing this challenge with your child, I hope that the ideas in this article will be helpful for you!
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