Setting the Pattern

When your younger children crave attention, do they throw a tantrum, misbehave or act out inappropriately? If so, perhaps you can show them a better way.

You know, children want many things that they don’t usually ask for directly. In that way, they’re no different from adults. Two things in particular that we all seem to need, but seldom come right out and ask for are recognition and affection.

Now, children who get plenty of each from the start usually grow up to be happy, well adjusted, confident, and well behaved. Employers love these folks, because they typically are contributors to the workplace, without the narcissistic need for attention. Children who don’t get much of either, though, will get very creative. They may try throwing tantrums, and if this succeeds in creating the attention they need, they may grow up believing that when you don’t get what you want, becoming very angry will do the trick. You have probably seen examples of this while driving or at the mall.

Many children misbehave to get attention – not consciously, as a rule, but they do it nevertheless, because even negative attention is better than no attention. If neither tantrums nor acting out works, they may eventually stop trying at all, becoming withdrawn, listless and apathetic.

The thing to do, then, if you want to eliminate these problems or avoid them in the first place, is to give your children plenty of attention and affection when they are behaving well. Children judge adults as much by what they see as what they hear. It’s a pattern that gets followed into adulthood.

Let your children know that it’s OK to ask for what they want. It’s OK to ask for a hug or to say, “Please pay attention to me for a few minutes.” When they do ask, take time to give it to them. Active listening is one very special gift that you can give your child, or any child, for that matter. By doing so, you will be avoiding many future problems – not only for your kids, but also for you.