Positive Discipline for Attention Seeking Behaviors

Positive Discipline for Attention Seeking Behaviors

You’re feeling annoyed. Your child keeps bothering you with the same behavior.

“Stop!” you huff for the tenth time, but it happens again. Why can’t my child just listen to me, you think.

You’re confused as to the reason your child would continue to do something over and over again when you’ve made it clear that you want it to stop.

How many times has this happened for you this week?

Maybe did you finally “lose it” and yell? . . or end up threatening or following through with a punishment?

Want to better understand the situation? Would you like to try something that might yield better results? Read on to take a deeper look at what’s really going on between you and your child.

Attention Seeking Behaviors – What’s Going On

When looking more closely at attention seeking behaviors, there are a couple of issues going on. I’ll address them one at a time.

Negative attention is better than no attention

If your child wants your attention, he or she knows how to get it. First your child might, just might try a positive behavior to get your attention. If that doesn’t work, your child might try a negative approach next. You have “buttons” and who knows them better than your child? If you don’t notice a positive behavior from your child, surely you’ll notice a negative one, especially if it’s one that pushes your buttons. If your child is repeating negative behaviors in front of you (or making sure that you find out about them) then a good guess is that your child is seeking your attention. Now that’s not exactly a bad thing that your child wants your attention and truly that may or may not be what your child really wants, but the way your child is trying your attention probably isn’t working super well from his end or her end either.

Attention Seeking Behaviors Might Be Caused by Too Little or Too Much Attention

All children need a healthy amount of attention. Think about this idea of attention on a spectrum – a line that represents not enough parent attention on one end and too much parent attention on the other end.

attention seeking behavior from child

If you’re a super busy parent, maybe your child is seeking attention because he or she really hasn’t had enough attention from you to feel that he/she matters to you. On the other hand, maybe you and your child spend so much time together that your child has developed the idea that he or she needs attention from you almost constantly in order to feel that he/she matters.

What Your Child REALLY Wants – Instead of Attention

To address this issue of children and attention seeking behaviors, let’s change the label of attention to a new one that will help us better approach the problem. Instead of naming this attention seeking behaviors, let’s change the name to connection seeking behaviors. We might look at this problem in a slightly different way if we understand that our child is seeking connection – a connection with you.

Positive Discipline is based on the work of Alfred Adler. Adler believed that children (and all humans) are constantly seeking “belonging and significance.” They want to “belong” in a group of people or in a relationship – that’s the connection piece. They want to feel connected to other people. So really, instead of attention, it’s connection that your child seeks. Secondly, your child wants to feel significant in a group or in a relationship. Your child wants to contribute something valuable to the group or to the relationship somehow.

When we approach the problem with this Adlerian view, then the solutions below start to make more sense.


positive discipline

SIX Positive Discipline Tools When Your Child Seeks Connection and Contribution

Connecting with you is what your child needs to form a healthy emotional bond that will foster relationship skills for life. In addition your child needs to feel significant by making contributions to others in his life.

The following Positive Discipline tools address these two important needs.

1. Schedule Special Time

2. Involve your child in a helpful task

Do not pamper children in the name of love; instead let them see how capable they are.

3. Give your child opportunities to make meaningful contributions through household jobs such as helping cook, feed pets, set the table  – on a daily basis.

4. Stop what you are doing and connect with your child for a few minutes. Love Rituals are one great way to do this.

5. Plan one night of the week for family time to create lasting memories and connections with each other.

6. Empathize with your child and validate your child’s feelings so your child knows that you care about his/her perspective.

Kelly Pfeiffer

Learn more Positive Discipline tools with Kelly by signing up for her mailing list today. She will send you a new parenting tool each week and you will also receive her “Stop Yelling and Start Inviting Cooperation Steps for Parents” printable.


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Kelly Pfeiffer is the founder and owner of Think It Through Parenting. A Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer, Kelly teaches live interactive workshops to parents and child care providers on child development, social-emotional skills, self-care for parents, conflict resolution for families and Positive Discipline tools. She’s authored over 100 web articles on child development topics, blogs about Positive Discipline parenting and also teaches creative writing as a writer artist in residence in elementary schools. Kelly is mom/step-mom to two teenagers and two young adults.

20 Responses to Positive Discipline for Attention Seeking Behaviors

  1. What strategies would you employ for a 31 year old developmentally disabled young man? His comprehension is maybe that of a 3 yr old. It’s a vicious circle that is driving me crazy.

  2. Hi Cheryl,
    Do you have a network of support for caring for this young man? For many developmentally challenged individuals, frustration, changes in mood, and demanding attention can be expected but also quite draining for both the individual and the caregiver. Finding someone to give you a break, looking into building routines so things are more predictable and communicating changes in advance and with repetition can all be very helpful. I am not able to comment on your specific situation not knowing either of you, but in similar instances what I can share is that boundaries often need to be explained over and over again. The repetition may be difficult or bothersome but it is well worth the effort and it’s not lost or wasted time. Also having the understanding that “attention seeking behaviors” can indicate the person needs help learning to get needs met in a better way – the routine in this situation helps make things vastly more predictable as well. I hope this helps.

  3. My son is 13 and has had a lot of attention of both myself as a single mum and lots of attention off my parents. I have now been married for 2years and my son is angry. All he does is shown me negative interactions, it is so upsetting. I don’t handle well at all as he knows me so well and pushes my buttons, that I scream as he hits me with cushions or threatens to hit me!
    He says he hates me and is happier with his friends. It breaks my heart, I know he loves me and wants my attention, but he refuses to go anywhere with me if he does it ends up with an argument as he wants everything his own way.
    I don’t know the best way to help him.
    Your article is great and I will try and catch him doing something good, but it’s hard to find something as all he wants to to is play computer games!
    Sorry for being negative, it’s upsetting. Finding a connection is a good idea, I will try.
    Thanks Carolynn

  4. My daughter is 10. She is kind, caring, warm, generous, funny, active, outgoing wonderful little girl who is loved my so many people in her life. We are truly a village raising children. My mother lives in our home that consists of myself, husband, 12 year old son and daughter mentioned already. We also have my aunt and uncle who are very involved in our children’s lives. We also have the in laws and cousins aunts and uncles. For the moment I am a stay at home mother after being in the work field for the past 7 or more years. I left my job to go to school and take some time to enjoy my family. The problem is my sweet girl is so needy. I can spend entire days just focused on her and she still needs more. She is not acting out for attention in bad ways, just constantly coming to me while I scrub a toilet and saying that she misses me after I just sat and watched a movie with her. She refuses to spend the night at anyone’s house because she will miss me even though I have been with her all day. She drips out of after school programs because it interferes with the time she has with me. Even when I am snuggled up close to her watching a movie or show, perhaps sharing some snacks she will still need the dog to come sit with her too. See she needs to have all the attention of all living things all around her. I am growing quite tired of it and I hate pushing her away but I have to for my sanity. This is not a new thing since I stopped working, she would send me messages at 5 asking when I would be home. She is this way with her father also. Often she will spend days with him and as soon as they get home she is looking for the next person to spend time with. It sounds like she is incapable of being alone. This is not true. Some times she will sit in her quiet room and read a book or simply listen to her favorite songs and sing along. She isn’t afraid to be alone with anyone, she sleeps through the night in her own bed without complaint. She has many friends who she visits regularly and when she comes home she is ready to have all mine or anyone else’s attention. I seem to be the focus of her needs, but others are not excluded. I am afraid that this need for constant attention will turn into a bad habit when she is a little older. And frankly I need some time alone. I feel like I am suffocating. I love her and enjoy her company but I done need anyone or anything the way she feels she needs me. I am on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Please help me!

  5. Hello
    My older 8 year old boy is acting sick all the time and sometimes i get tired of faking sympathy when am sure he is not sick at all
    What can i do with him

  6. Hi. I’m the author of the article. Did you look at suggestion 1-4? Those are the ones that if done on a regular basis will be more likely to address the true issue underlying his behavior.

  7. Do you have any suggestions for a child who may be seeking the attention of his classmates? He is being disruptive in class trying to get other children to pay attention to him. He is an only child and due to work, we don’t get many play dates with other children. He gets plenty of attention at home as well as time to play alone. At school he is constantly wanting someone to look at him or laugh at him or talk to him.

    What are some strategies his teacher and we can use?

    P.S. He is in Kindergarten

    Thank you!

  8. Hi Maranda, and thanks for your question. One guess is that your child really seeks connection with his classmates, but mistakenly thinks that attention is what he needs. Several strategies will help him, but realize that it may take a while for him to learn new skills and especially to change his internal belief about what “friendship skills” to use with his classmates.
    1. If the teacher does not offer a system of classroom jobs, I highly recommend this for all classrooms and all age levels. The Positive Discipline way of of using classroom jobs is that there is no reward or incentive for completing the classroom jobs. This will give the child (and all of the classmates) a way to contribute to the life of the classroom and to feel significant by feeling capable rather than by being the center of attention. All of the jobs should be true jobs that are helpful and not jobs that are simply about status, so I don’t usually recommend “line leader” as a job, but rather jobs such as snack helper, supply manager, plant waterer, etc.
    2. Teach this child new social skills/friendship skills such as asking questions to classmates about their interests, high fiving a classmate after they accomplish a task together, etc. An adult can role play these skills with the child about once a week.
    3. Help this child feel more capable at home and at school by allowing him to do as much for himself as possible such as getting dressed, clearing his plate from the table, putting the plate in the dishwasher, etc. Sometimes parents and teacher pamper children in the name of love, but this doesn’t lead to an attitude of capability on the child’s part.
    4. I would also suggest that his child needs more opportunities to interact with both adults and children in a one on one basis. Hopefully this will create more opportunities for genuine connection with others so he can learn and practice new skills and feel the positive feelings from connecting and interacting with others. Check out the tool of “Special Time” and put special time on the calendar so this child can learn to depend on this time with one or more parent.

    My best guess is that this child really wants to connect with others and is using the only tools he has at the moment. Help him learn new tools and also to change his idea about how to connect with others and what true connection looks like and feels like.

    Remember that it will probably take a while for him to learn these new skills and change his beliefs about how to interact with others so be patient while he learns.

  9. Hello, I’m a seventeen year old girl who is disturbed by an attention seeking guy in my class. I want to know how to deal with him because he is getting in my nerves. thank you.

  10. Hi Dear,

    My almost seven years daughter does not want me to do my job she insists me to leave my job and stay at home with her although she goes to school and back around one o’clock to her nursery and there she spends her time with her so many fiends and enjoys but she wants me to stay at home ,i tried to convince her that there so many friends she has and at home she stay alone only with mom all time but she said u stay at home you don’t know how sensitive children and my doll will be my fiend she does not has any siblings. Plz advise as I m too worried about her behavior and cant leave my job.

  11. Hi Salmana,

    It is important to help children understand the difference between the things they can wish for and the things they can control. As the parent and adult only you can decide what your responsibility is about choosing to work. You decide this, much like many other things you decide for your child each day. Children may wish to have a birthday party every day, to eat only candy and sweets, never get dressed or to never put on a seatbelt …It’s the responsibility of the parent to guide the child towards understanding what is expected. Your values and expectations are the basis for guiding your child to thrive while setting clear limits and boundaries. She may miss you very much, listen to her and validate her struggle to help her grow.

  12. […] Attention seeking behaviors can be some of the loudest. Screaming, tantrums, kicking. Deciding whether an inappropriate behavior is all about giving attention can sometimes be a dead giveaway. My favorite example of this is when a child is screaming on the floor. The child stops the tantrum, peeks up at you and when they see that you are looking that them, the screaming starts all over again. […]

  13. The concepts are basic knowledge to why a child seeks negative attention. The suggestions are reasonable, but what if I tried all these for 4 years now and still the child seeks negative attention? My adopted 7Yr old hates positive attention and praise. She sabotages special time wether playing a game or just hanging out. Chores to fit in to give her confidence are seen as control that she defies against. She baby talks even though she is well articulate, she pees in pants when mad, even if I make her clean it up. She lies all the time even though she know right from wrong, she just doesn’t care. She steals from her siblings even though we give her things and food. We talk to her, give praise,behavior charts,a schedule to build trust, natural consequences, time out and so on, So, how do these suggestions work?

  14. Hi Heather,

    What do you think is keeping your 7 year old from doing better? You mention she doesn’t like Praise or positive attention but these two are very different things. Attention and connection build your relationship , praise is an evaluation that puts children on the spot. You mention you use behavior charts and time outs – these are often creating tension for children as they try to meet your expectations. What kind of guidance are you offering your 7 year old when she can’t meet your expectation? Baby talk at this age is most often a request for understanding and a signal of discouragement. Fake injuries are also a mistaken way to get attention that signal a sense that the child can’t belong unless they get special service or treatment. You say “even though we give her things and food.” is there a difference between what you give this child and the others? Do you point out to her that she is adopted? Have you worked with an adoption counselor to help with transitioning and help everyone have a sense of family and bonding? I can’t give you more personalized ideas without knowing your situation better but all children benefit from a feeling of belonging and strong bond to their parents – this doesn’t prevent mistaken behaviors, it simply allows you to know your child more and give her guidance from a place of love when needed. Coaching or counseling may be helpful so you can have your questions answered more personally 🙂

  15. Heather, I am wondering at what age your 7 year old came to live with you. A couple of your descriptions make me think there might be an unhealthy attachment issue going on with this child. Have you done any reading about early trauma or attachment disorders?

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