When parents come to me for help with a child, they naturally start by telling me what is wrong with their child and what behaviours or emotional responses they would like to get rid of or change. That is totally understandable.
If a child is frequently acting in a way that is inappropriate, unacceptable, annoying, or worrying, it is reasonable that the parents would focus on those bad behaviours and reactions in an attempt to stop or modify them; especially if the parents have got to the stage of seeking help from a psychologist. By that time they are usually tearing their hair out with frustration and losing sleep.
When I observe these parents and children together, I notice that the concerned parents often spend a great deal of time and energy giving negative attention to the children’s unwanted behaviours in an attempt to stop them. Again, this is totally natural and understandable.
Attention Encourages Behaviour
The problem is that every time the parents focus their attention on unwanted behaviours, they inadvertently encourage those behaviours, particularly if the child is hungry for attention. Some children need an enormous amount of attention, and they can unconsciously develop a taste for bad attention if that becomes their main source.
A powerful strategy when you are dealing with an attention seeking child, is to pay more attention to the behaviours and reactions that you want, and less attention to the behaviours and reactions that you don’t want.
Focus on What You Want
If you focus on desirable behaviours and give them your love and positive attention, you will nurture and encourage those positive behaviours. It’s a bit like watering, fertilising and protecting flowers in a garden, and allowing the weeds to wilt and be trampled in a natural way.
It is sometimes difficult to see the positive in a child who has driven you crazy with their disobedience, or laziness, or inability to listen and follow instructions , or silly behaviour, or rudeness, or dangerous antics, or anxiety, or aggression, or temper tantrums. Many parents of challenging children find it very hard to find anything they feel worthy of positive attention.
Start with Small Seeds
But remember, beautiful flowers grow from small seeds. You have to make a conscious effort to turn your habitual attention giving around, so that you notice and acknowledge positive behaviours, even if only tiny things.
Try to notice and acknowledge when your attention seeking child plays quietly by himself for even a minute. Smile and give a thumbs up when your argumentative children agree over which TV program to watch. Praise your dreamy child when she manages to follow a small instruction. High five your angry child when he gets through a short shopping expedition without a tantrum.
Gradually Expect More
Make sure the praise and attention suit the age, personality and maturity of the child. As your child gets better at taking these small steps, you can reduce the frequency of your praise and raise the bar slowly, and as they mature acknowledge this with the expectation that things will keep improving. ‘You are getting better and better at staying calm as you get older. Well done.”
Want More Help?
If you are interested in other parenting tips, get a copy of my free twelve part e-book, ‘12 Super Child Training Secrets’. Or, if you are after a much more comprehensive and intensive training that you could do at home in your own time and pace, check out my parent training package, ‘How to Manage Your 3 to 10 Year Old Child’. The links to both are on www.Psychology ThroughTheInternet.com, on the right hand side of the page.