How to Deal With Your Attention-Seeking Children

Attention. It’s one thing every child craves like a drug, though some children can never get enough of it.

“(They) seem to have an insatiable desire for attention,” writes Tim Francis on “They get positive attention galore yet they want more.”

Parents and teachers shower these children with praise and attention to no avail. A mother may spend a full day with her daughter at the zoo, going out to lunch, and then out for ice cream, only to have her daughter misbehave upon returning home due to a need for even more one-on-one attention. It can be infuriating for a parent looking to get day-to-day things (housecleaning, work, etc.) accomplished.

How much attention is too much attention? As you can imagine, there are varying opinions on the subject.

On-Demand Attention

Robin Grille, a Sydney-based psychologist, holds the view that parents should provide on-demand attention. In an article pulled from Heart to Heart Parenting, she says, “Our society tends to consider children’s needs for attention as a bother. No wonder children become indirect attention seekers, some even going to great lengths to fall ill or get injured in order to be noticed.”

Grille cites “empathy blockers” as a problem between parents and children. Examples include downplaying feelings, denying the child is feeling what he is feeling or putting down the child for having certain feelings. The key, she says, is real listening, which involves “listening with your heart, not just with your ears.”

The result of ignoring a child’s genuine need for attention is one who uses manipulation to finagle the attention he or she craves instead of coming to parents with a direct problem. Manipulation, says Grille, is something parents should strive to avoid.

Avoiding Too Much Attention

On the flip side is the concept of too much attention. Elaine M. Gibson writes on, that parents need to set healthy boundaries when it comes to attention.

“If a child is always the center of attention and adult needs and rights are totally ignored, the child will become attention-addicted,” writes Gibson. “There will never be enough. When this happens, parents become frustrated and angry with the child and the attention continues, but in negative ways. To a child, attention is attention, regardless of its character.”

The two ways Gibson believes children develop into manipulative attention-seekers are through endlessly adoring them and through the parents giving up all their rights for the sake of the child. She cites that parents should maintain a life of their own, provide a good book to the child while parents read their own, and not allow the child to interrupt adult conversations.

Another way to try and curb the attention-seeking monster that some children have is through special time.

Special Time

special time
Children thrive on ‘special time’ with a parent or caregiver.

Francis has the mindset that perception is reality. If children believe they aren’t getting enough attention — even if they are getting plenty — they will act as such.

“(Look at the) child’s thinking in terms of there being a black box through which all thinking must pass,” says Francis. “The black box contains one simple instruction that is, ‘I do not get enough attention.'”

Francis illustrates this point as a means to help parents understand the confusing phenomenon of an attention-starved child who just received a great deal of attention! His suggestion is to instill “special time” on a daily basis, even if the child has had a bad day.

This special time should not be taken away under any circumstance, even if the child has had an awful day or requires punishment.

Special Time:

  • Tell the child that they will be getting a special time each day.
  • Then each day tell them that special time will start in 2 minutes.
  • Tell the child that special time will start now.
  • Engage in special time.
  • Tell the child that special time will end in 2 minutes.
  • Tell the child that special time will end now.

Each perspective should be taken with a grain of salt, pulling wisdom out of each. Through that balance – the overlying principle of quality relationships in general – a quality home life can be achieved.

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