Reframing Attention Seeking Behavior
Reframing Attention Seeking Behavior:
Understanding and Responding with a Connection Lens
We all seek belonging and worth from those around us. We desire and need to feel connected to others – this is a fundamental element of the human condition. For younger children especially, developing a healthy attachment to those in their world, seeking responsiveness from caregivers, and feeling a sense of connection to others are all vital in their development.
We can all conjure up images of what is traditionally called attention seeking behavior: pasta (and red sauce no less!) thrown on the floor; lipstick suddenly covering your child’s entire face; or an all-out meltdown while we are on the most important calls of our day.
Children try many things as they learn how to connect. When we re-label attention seeking behaviors as connection seeking, it not only encourages fresh eyes in understanding the situation, but can create more strategies in parenting that allow caregivers to be better equipped to deal with these behaviors positively.
How can you apply a connection seeking lens?
Make play-dates with your kids
Set down your phone and intentionally spend time connecting with your children daily. Map out and schedule time to play; make art; go on a car ride to a special place; or take a walk, bike, or trike ride. When you are with them, comment on what they are doing well! This praise can go a long way. Special time, where you have purposefully planned opportunities to connect and be present with your child will continue to build a sense of belonging and connection.
Give them praise and lots of attention daily
Give your attention (more than you might think you should) freely and thoughtfully. Deliberately point out their strengths, and give positive reinforcement throughout the day – this can lead to a reduced need to connect in problematic behavior.
Focus on the child’s emotional state, rather than their behavior
Mirror the child as best you can (see previous blog here on mirroring), in order to reflect and validate their feelings. Make clear that they cannot engage in a specific behavior (Ex: throwing food or toys), but give them a pathway for connection with you in an alternative behavior (Ex: “I will read you your favorite book/put your favorite song on Alexa and dance with you once you [desired behavior]”. In the moment, this can be challenging, but if we are able to offer an avenue of connection in a more appropriate or desired behavior, it invites them to engage with you in that way.
Let’s face it – even with a lens of “How is my child trying to connect?”, connection seeking behaviors can be unwanted or difficult to deal with. However, when viewed as behaviors that express a child’s need to belong, and connect, it presents more compassion for all parties, and ultimately a framework that can be beneficial across both the long-term development of kids and the relationship we have with them.