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Understanding and Managing Attention Seeking Behavior in Children: Top 5 Effective Strategies

Reading time: 13 minutes
Written by
| Updated on
February 14, 2024
Reviewed by parenting expert
Mom talking on the phone while the son is screaming and demanding attention

What you’ll learn

Explore effective strategies to manage attention seeking behavior in child rearing. Understand how to address this natural yet challenging aspect so common in childhood.

Attention seeking behavior in child is often marked by constant demands and disruptive actions. It involves excessive emotions, all in a natural cry for interaction or validation. Understanding and addressing this behavior is crucial, as it lays the foundation for a child’s emotional development and well-being. This article will present effective strategies on how to stop attention seeking behavior in child rearing, fostering a harmonious relationship between parents and their children.

Causes of Attention Seeking Behavior in Child

There are times when our kids seem overly dependent or clingy. It’s like they’ve become our shadows. They sometimes seem unable to do anything without us being there to pay attention, or constantly reassuring them. The constant demands can feel like a roadblock in our daily routine, distracting us from getting things done. Sometimes we feel like our personal space is invaded. This attention seeking behavior in child can be frustrating and test our patience. Although it is usually interpreted as misbehavior, clinginess is quite common in different stages of child development. It is often a sign of a child’s unmet needs, insecurity, or stress caused by environmental factors. 

1. Emotional Needs and Communication

The world of young children doesn’t differentiate between attention and affection. To them, it’s all the same. That’s why even after a morning full of hugs, pancakes, drawing, and building the tallest Lego tower, you might still find them tugging at your sleeve every two minutes while you’re trying to work on your laptop. Simple answers just won’t do. They want the full package, eye contact, and undivided attention.

Mother trying to work on the laptop, but kids keep interrupting

Credit: Freepik

This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re having serious behavior problems or that they’re being pesky. Instead, it could signal unfulfilled emotional needs. It may also be their way of expressing internal feelings or desires they don’t have the words to explain yet.

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For instance, a child might ask for a cookie, but what they’re really craving might be a warm hug or the snuggle they usually get at storytime. As kids grow, their communication skills develop. Over time, they’ll become better at expressing their thoughts and feelings. They’ll be able to clearly state their needs rather than hinting at them indirectly. Until then, we must patiently decode our child’s behavior and provide them with the love and support they need.

2. Environmental Factors

Sometimes, attention seeking behavior in a child are triggered only by specific places or events. In the school environment, for instance, they might adopt the role of the class clown to stand out. The classroom, filled with peers and a figure of authority (the teacher), presents a perfect stage for a child craving attention. This behavior often involves making jokes at inappropriate times, or breaking the rules in ways that make them the center of attention. Although these actions may get them temporary laughter or notice, they can also lead to disciplinary issues which can impede their learning process.

Attention seeking behavior in child - Child seeking attention and sticking tongue out

Credit: Freepik

Parks and playgrounds are other places where kids might seek attention. They might try to show off by climbing the highest playground equipment, doing risky stunts, or trying to outperform others in games. It’s normal to be a bit competitive. But doing dangerous stuff to get noticed can be a sign they’re trying too hard to get approval from others. 

Family events can also make some kids act out. They might make jokes that aren’t funny or appropriate, cause a fuss, or even spill family secrets. Even though this might get them noticed for a bit, it can also make things awkward and cause people in the family to trust them less.

For their well-being and to help them maintain positive relationships with others, these behaviors should be addressed with patience in open, heartfelt discussions. Guide children towards understanding where their need for lots of attention comes from. In the end, teach them healthier ways to satisfy this need. 

3. Psychological Reasons

Anxiety is a common challenge for many kids, often taking the form of some kind of attention seeking behavior in child. Anxious children might feel intense worry or fear, which can make them restless or cranky. They may only find comfort in the constant presence of a parent or caregiver. 

A caring dad comforting his crying toddler in his loving arms

Credit: Photo by Phil Nguyen on Pexels

Interestingly, similar behaviors can also signal introversion. Introverted children may prefer close, one-on-one interaction over group activities, leading to a perceived need for constant attention from a trusted adult. This is a normal aspect of their personality and should not necessarily raise concerns. Parents shouldn’t consider that the child is being rude or misbehaving. Unlike anxiety, which is often characterized by distress, introversion is a more intrinsic part of a child’s personality that tends to persist into adulthood.

Past trauma can also lead to attention-seeking and behavioral issues. We are not always aware of the traumatic potential some casual life events have on our children. Each child perceives and processes events differently, and what might seem insignificant to an adult can be deeply impactful to a child. Events like losing a comforting object, not having a nightlight at a sleepover, or being ignored by children at the park can slip our minds when a similar event occurs. We might misinterpret resistance as attention-seeking behavior in a child.

Recognizing Extreme Attention Seeking Behavior in Child

Kids often act out when they want to get noticed. Tantrums or meltdowns can happen in their early years because they’re still learning to handle their emotions. But as kids grow up, some might start causing problems on purpose because they’ve figured out it gets their attention. For example, bullies and kids who vandalize property aren’t usually just acting out for fun. Their harmful actions are a cry-out for attention and recognition. As a result, some peers get shocked, while others are supportive. Although it’s a negative attention-seeking behavior, it sadly meets its purpose. 

Aside from the apparent impact on the victim, this extreme attention-seeking behavior in child’s actions can also have lasting effects on the child initiating it. It can lead to social isolation, disciplinary actions, and lasting damage to their self-esteem. With the proper guidance, children who display this type of behavior can learn to express themselves and get the recognition they want in positive ways instead of causing problems.

The Impact of Attention Seeking Behavior in Child

Dealing with attention seeking behavior in child can leave families at their wits’ end. Children seeking constant attention might struggle with feelings of inadequacy, especially when their attempts to gain attention aren’t successful. This can spiral into low self-esteem, leading to a more intense quest to get noticed. It’s a frustrating cycle that can emotionally exhaust a child. Conversely, it can make family members feel guilty or that they’re not doing a good job taking care of the kid. Siblings, too, may feel neglected if one child monopolizes the family’s attention. 

In the school environment, a child’s constant need for attention can cause disruptions in the classroom, potentially affecting their academic performance. They may only focus on tasks if they’re the center of attention or require frequent validation from the teacher. This can slow their learning and create a challenging environment for teachers trying to balance the needs of the entire class. In extreme cases, the child could face disciplinary action or other consequences.

Additionally, constant attention seeking behavior can create significant challenges for children within their social circles. They may struggle to listen, share, and cooperate with others. They may also find it challenging to form strong, positive relationships with their peers because their behavior presents them as selfish or domineering.

How to Stop Attention-Seeking Behavior in Child

When dealing with attention-seeking behavior, the preferred approach starts with prevention. Being proactive in managing the behavior of an attention-seeking child requires patience, understanding, and a keen sense of observation. Parents can guide their children towards healthier ways of expressing themselves. Showing them how to get recognition and positive attention from others. Setting clear boundaries and addressing issues as they come up are useful prevention techniques.

Strategy 1: Tone Down Empty Praise and Use Thoughtful Attention Redirection 

Kiddos who are always seeking attention can start to crave praise. But if parents and caregivers shower them with big words for good behavior, without really meaning them, just to stop the attention-seeking, it can worsen things. Children get a confusing and incomplete message from this kind of empty praise.

Imagine this: Your child comes to show you their drawing while you’re on the phone. You don’t like being interrupted, but you utter “Good job!” without really looking at it to avoid upsetting them. A couple of minutes later, they come back with another drawing, interrupting you again. Instead of repeating the empty praise, you could pause your phone conversation and give your child some honest feedback: “I’m on the phone right now, and it’s hard for me to focus on both the call and your drawings. I’ll be on the phone for a few more minutes, and then we can sit down and look closely at what you drew.”

A multitasking dad on a call and using his laptop at the table while two kids happily draw nearby

Credit: Freepik

Another strategy you can use is to redirect their attention. This isn’t about tricking kids into behaving differently by offering rewards or making threats. Instead, it’s about suggesting other things they could do when you’re not able to give them the attention they want. For example, you could say, “I can’t look at your drawings right now, but why don’t you color this page while I finish my call?” or “Can you sort these Legos by color until I’m done talking?” This way, they’ll have something else to focus on, and you’ll be able to finish your call without interruptions. Plus, once you’re done, you can give them the undivided attention they were seeking, creating a win-win situation.

Strategy 2: Setting Clear Boundaries and Expectations

Children thrive on routine and knowing what to expect. Consistent boundaries provide a sense of safety and stability. By setting clear consequences for specific actions, children learn that their choices have outcomes. This understanding fosters responsibility and self-awareness. 

Explain the rules in simple terms, and make sure the child understands them. For example: 

  • A rule for expressing feelings instead of acting out can be supported by: “If you’re upset, tell me why, and we’ll talk about it.” 
  • When trying to work without being interrupted, you could say: “I’m working right now. I need 20 more minutes. I’ll set a timer, and when it goes off, you’ll know it’s playtime for us!”. 
  • If you’re trying to teach them respect for personal space and finally take that first shower without company, simply say: “I’m going to the bathroom now, and this is private time for me. You can play with your toys or read a book while you wait. I’ll be right back, and then we can continue playing together. If you need me, just wait outside the door, and I’ll be with you in a few minutes.”

These rules and boundaries are not only aimed at reducing attention-seeking behaviors but also help in teaching children essential life skills like respect, patience, and empathy. The key in behavior management is being consistent, clear, and positive in enforcing these rules. This is how you can create healthy predictable routines.

Strategy 3: Fostering Self-Confidence and Independence

When we encourage our children to be independent, they tend to seek attention less frequently. This is because they gain satisfaction and confidence from mastering new skills. If parents know what their children can do independently and what they still need help with, they can better understand the intention behind the attention-seeking behavior.

For instance, let’s say your child learned how to tie their shoelaces for the first time when they were 5 years old. Now they are seven and suddenly start asking for your help with their shoelaces again. Instead of automatically refusing or tying their shoes for them, you can use this opportunity to open up a dialogue. They might crave closeness. They might want you to give them more time to get ready or communicate something that has nothing to do with their shoelaces in the first place. Help them find the shortcut.

Father sitting on a bench tying his son’s shoelaces 

Credit: Photo by Keira Burton on Pexels

You could say something like, “I’ve noticed that you’ve been asking for help with your shoelaces lately, even though I know you can tie them on your own. Is there something else that’s bothering you or something else you want to talk about?” When kids see that their words can get a response, it encourages them to communicate more directly in the future. If the behavior is for spending time together, they’ll verbalize that. They just have to get to the understanding that their feelings are important and that people are listening. Over time, talking about these things can help kids replace attention-seeking behaviors with healthier ways of communicating.

Strategy 4: Teaching Emotional Regulation and Coping Skills

Hearing your kids whine can be a tough moment for parents. We don’t mean when they’re really hurting, either physically or emotionally. We’re talking about when they act as though their world is ending because their favorite blouse has a stain on it, they throw a tantrum when you change the music in the car, or moan about an extra chore that will only take a few minutes. These are the times when you might feel like giving in to anything just to make the noise stop. However, if you are committed to reducing attention-seeking behavior, we advise you to hold your ground.

The first step to helping your child manage their emotions is empathy – the best tool of positive parenting. It might be difficult to hear their distress over seemingly small things, but it’s important not to dismiss their feelings, minimize them, or punish them.

You can say something like, “I see that you’re really upset about your blouse. It is a pretty blouse.” Follow this up with an invitation to find a solution, such as, “Let’s think of three ways to solve this problem. Do you think we could try to wash the stain out quickly, or maybe we could look for a new blouse? What else can we do?”. 

Responding this way powers up their rational brain, helping to reduce the intensity of their emotion. It also shows them that you understand and care about their feelings, and it guides them toward finding a solution to their problem. They learn that they can cope with any situation, even when things go wrong. 

So next time your child throws a fit because their sandwich is cut into squares instead of triangles, take a deep breath, acknowledge their emotion, and work together to find a solution. This teaches them that their feelings are important but also that they have the ability to handle challenging events.

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Strategy 5: Building a Strong Parent-Child Connection

Children who feel a strong connection with their parents usually don’t act out just to get attention. In scientific terms, this is known as having a secure attachment. Developed by psychologists, the theory of attachment emphasizes the importance of a strong emotional and physical connection between a child and at least one primary caregiver. Learning more about how to create a strong bond with their child can help parents create a more trusting relationship and help the child feel more secure. 

Boy being comforted in his mother’s arms

Credit: Freepik

A secure attachment is often formed when a parent has consciously interacted with the child from birth, taking specific actions like providing skin-on-skin contact, being highly responsive to the child’s needs, and actively training them to develop trust in the relationship. These intentional behaviors cultivate a strong bond between parent and child.

Not having a secure attachment is not necessarily about being neglectful. Parents of children who are not securely attached still love their children and value their well-being. It’s more about some events or isolated behaviors that can break a child’s trust. For example, some parents might sneak out of the house to avoid their children’s crying or threaten to remove love or benefits when the child is not behaving. These actions can unintentionally foster insecurity in the child, enhancing attention seeking behavior.

Parents can create a strong bond with their kids at any age by spending quality time together, listening actively to their thoughts and feelings, and showing consistent support and love. These simple but meaningful actions foster trust and connection, helping to build a secure and loving relationship that can last a lifetime.

Seeking Professional Help for Extreme Attention Seeking Behavior

In some cases, kids might need professional support. Conditions like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can also involve attention-seeking behavior. Kids with ADHD may have difficulty controlling their actions and impulses, which can result in behavior that seems like they’re seeking attention as they wrestle with their challenges to focus or control their actions.

Mental health professionals can provide effective strategies to handle conditions like anxiety or ADHD, and therapy can be a beneficial resource for kids struggling with past trauma or low self-esteem.

Conclusion

Managing attention seeking behavior in child’s demands and actions, requires empathy, patience, and dedication from parents and caregivers. Five essential strategies include setting clear and consistent boundaries, toning down empty praise,  teaching healthier coping skills, and helping kids become independent. Approaching these strategies with understanding and compassion can foster a loving and respectful relationship between the child and the caregiver. It’s not an overnight fix, but with consistent effort and a gentle approach, these methods can guide children toward more positive ways of seeking attention and connection. The key is to recognize the child’s need for engagement and to fulfill it in ways that encourage growth and emotional maturity.

Are you seeking effective ways to manage your child’s attention-seeking behavior and get them to listen? Join us in our free online event, “3 Methods to Get Your Children to Listen.” We’ll dive deeper into proven strategies that foster communication, trust, and respect within the family. This event is crafted for parents, caregivers, or anyone who interacts with children, offering valuable insights that can be applied at home or in educational settings. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from experts and connect with a community dedicated to nurturing positive child development. Register now and take the first step towards empowering yourself and your child!

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References

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Gosselin, P. M., & Forman, D. R. (2012). Attention-Seeking During Caregiver Unavailability and Collaboration at Age 2. Child Development, 83(2), 712-727. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01716.x

Hong, Y. R., & Park, J. S. (2012). Impact of attachment, temperament and parenting on human development. Korean Journal of Pediatrics, 55(12), 449-454. https://doi.org/10.3345/kjp.2012.55.12.449

Olofson, E. L., & Schoppe-Sullivan, S. J. (2022). Same Behaviors, Different Outcomes: Mothers’ and Fathers’ Observed Challenging Behaviors Measured Using a New Coding System Relate Differentially to Children’s Social-Emotional Development. Children, 9(5). https://doi.org/10.3390/children9050675

Saunders, H., Kraus, A., Barone, L., & Biringen, Z. (2015). Emotional availability: Theory, research, and intervention. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 155245. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01069

Wagner, L. (2019). The Social Life of Class Clowns: Class Clown Behavior Is Associated With More Friends, but Also More Aggressive Behavior in the Classroom. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 434777. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00604

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