WHEN OUR CHILDREN TEASE US OR FIGHT FOR ATTENTION .pdf
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WHEN OUR CHILDREN TEASE US OR FIGHT FOR ATTENTION©
“We literally just deal with him since
he was born. If we would leave him
alone, he would only make mischief
just to provoke our attention.”
A parent’s statement.
There are four main reasons for the
“bad” behavior amongst children. Or
in other words, four unmet needs.
Many of the children’s mischiefs or
challenging behaviors are their way to get what they need! If the parent can recognize the
reason, it is much easier to deal with the situation.
The theme of this article is the first of four reasons, which occurs most often: children’s
unmet demand from “connectivity”, which the child compensates by demanding attention.
What do these “fights for attention” represent? Here are three examples of situations
which resemble such fights:
1. Your child can put on their shoes alone, but that particular morning when you are in a rush
the most, he or she says “I can’t put on my shoes, you do it”.
2. He or she constantly interrupts the conversation between the parents at dinner, stubbornly
kicking the table after he or she was told 10 times already to stop it.
3. Jumping on the couch when he or she knows perfectly well that this is not allowed while
you are trying to talk on the phone.
General characteristics of the fights for attention are the following:
Your child does something he or she knows is not right, or asks you for a favor when there
is no real need (put on my shoes, bring me water).
This happens in a time when you are busy with something else (in a hurry for work, talking
to another person).
As a result, you are “forced” to pay him or her attention (even to punish them).
You feel the irritation arise inside of you when he or she does exactly the opposite of what
is expected from them. You even have the feeling he or she provokes you on purpose!
If these four things are present, then this most likely is a “fight for attention”.
How do we know that the bad behavior of the child is prompted by their need for
How do we distinguish whether this is a “power struggle” or not, for example?
The child’s tool for “diagnosis” is noticing the feelings of the parent. So think for a second,
“What do I feel at this moment?” If your child behaves badly because he or she needs
attention, the main feelings that awaken in you are irritation, annoyance, and sometimes
anger. Your anger may diminish and usually passes, as the child temporarily stops with
their irritating behavior after receiving a dose of attention, though after a while starts again
with the same, or something else, which is also irritating. Furthermore, the parent usually
uses attention in the form of aid (shoes), muttering, remarks. From the child’s perspective,
it is better to receive such attention than none. So if you’re more annoyed than angry, your
child apparently seeks attention.
But why does the child choose to seek attention in an irritating and inappropriate way?
Can’t he or she just ask nicely?
Imagine the following situation – the child is bored and the mom is working on the
computer. He or she wants to play, but she says: “In a while, I am busy now.” And this is
repeated several times with Mom’s same response. Dad is tired and watches the news
and is also declining the invitations to play. However, if the child begins to play with
something forbidden – such as Mom’s precious vase or Dad’s new fishing rod, the
situation radically changes: the parents abandon their work or the television and turn their
attention to the child. Usually the first thing they say is “Leave it; you will break it.” If the
child listens to them, they will return to their activities, and the child will return to the
boredom. However, if he or she continues, they will turn their attention again to him or her.
From the child’s perspective, the game with the forbidden subject brings them closer to
his goal – Mom and Dad pay attention to him! And so they continue!
The child finds that the only method that immediately ensures large doses of parental
attention is to do something forbidden! And the more forbidden is that something, the
more effective the reaction is! It works instantly and directs the “spotlight” directly to him or
her. In this case, the fact that they will scold him or her is a “tolerable side effect.” From
children’s point of view it is better to get some “negative” attention than none.
“But we pay attention to our child! How much more!?!”
Most parents believe that they pay the necessary attention to their children, but the child
nevertheless still seeks more. If we look deeper, however, we can find that the parent
often has “seeming” unfocused attention, and often. For example, while reading a
newspaper, the parent tries to make a conversation with the child. Or while washing the
dishes, Mom takes a look for a second at the drawing her child proudly shows them, and
says a formal “Well done”, after which continues with the dishes. Sometimes the parent is
only physically present, but their mind is busy with other thoughts, in which case the
child’s attempts to attract the parent’s attention produces more boredom than irritation.
“Why does the reason matter? If he or she behaves badly, they have to be punished!”
It is important to know that punishments do not eliminate the cause for bad behavior; on
the contrary, they also add to it negative emotions – resentment, anger, etc. In order to
deal with bad behavior, we must remove the reason for it, and then the behavior itself
And what do we do?
Once we have determined that the child needs attention, there are several ways to deal
with the behavior. First you need to disregard the bad behavior if possible; act like you do
not notice it. This way the bad behavior will not fulfill its purpose. In this case the
probability of your child behaving the same way again decreases. However, you should
immediately offer them something to do together, which will interrupt the annoying
behavior. If you are busy with something, try to include him or her in your activities by
giving the child a task. Children feel proud if they can help, and parents are often
surprised what things they are able to do, if you give them the opportunity.
The best prevention, however, is to provide children a sufficient amount of quality
communication: actively communicating is better than a whole day of divided attention. If it
is difficult, you may frame it – for example, specify 30 minutes a day playtime with your
child, during which you turn off your phone and do not get distracted by anything else.
The second important thing is to pay attention when children behave well. Thus they will
not have to seek it in inappropriate ways. For example, when dinner passed without any
incident, we can say “Thank you for being so well behaved at dinner. It was a pleasure”.
Usually we do not do this, although encouragement does a much better job than
reproaches. It is precisely on this principle – encouragement of good behavior – that the
“Behavioral Modeling System™” is based on, which like a magic wand makes the child
perform with joy the jobs that may feel like tedious obligations. It actually eliminates two of
the main reasons for bad behavior – the fight for attention and the power struggle. You can
find out more about power struggle – in the next article.