Attention is a need for all humans. We are social beings and largely enjoy the attention of people around us. Children in particular have a strong need for attention not just from their peers but also from adults around them. Children with additional needs also seek attention from people around them. Parents and people who work with them are faced with their attention-seeking behaviours daily.
Attention-seeking behaviours may either be positive or undesirable. When a child completes his given task and calls you to look at it or when a child calls out your name just to have you admire his just concluded art work—these are examples of positive behaviours seeking attention. Sometimes though, a child may also engage in undesirable attention seeking behaviour. Behaviours such as screaming, fake crying, whining, throwing tantrums, throwing and kicking objects, acting violently( kicking, biting, etc) towards others and hitting or biting self are examples of undesirable ways of seeking attention.
While it may seem difficult or even absurd, a very good way of reducing undesirable attention seeking behaviour is to simply ignore it. Your strategy should be to catch the child engaging in a positive behaviour and give appropriate praise, while ignoring inappropriate forms of attention-seeking (as long as the child’s safety can be ascertained).
Children may seek attention because they do not get enough of it or have realized that they have to engage in undesirable behaviours to get your attention. After all, we are more likely to give attention (by scolding) a child for inappropriate behaviour that bothers us than praise a child for the appropriate ones. However, when your child can get your attention without it being dependent on what they do or don’t do, they will begin to engage in less undesirable actions to seek your attention. This means that giving your child non contingent attention is a strong proactive way to prevent an undesirable attention-seeking behaviour. More so, when you give the attention, make sure you are completely giving it! Give eye contact and smile appropriately.
Another way to deal with undesirable attention seeking behaviour is to distract your child with another task. Redirecting your child’s attention into a simple task they are capable of doing and then praising them for it may be a good reactive measure to handle an ongoing inappropriate negative behaviour.
|– Quality time for non contingent attention|
– Positive reinforcement e.g. praises, toys, etc.
– Ignoring undesirable behaviours
– Redirecting to another task
– Give full attention
Finally, do not hesitate to consult your child’s psychologist or behaviour therapist for professional advice and guidance on how to handle your child’s specific attention- seeking behaviours.