Attention seeking behaviors can be exhausting! So, I'm super excited to share with you the best ways to avoid and respond when dealing with this type of challenge! Although this can be a common child behavior problem for all parents, it is especially prevalent in children with ADHD signs, sensory processing disorder (SPD) (usually sensory seeking type), or other behavioral disorders.
It may appear as if they are just being goofy to make others laugh or constantly requesting someone to play with them. It can also be in the form of self injury or aggressive behaviors in children. Even though the attention may be considered negative (ie. scolding from a caregiver), it can still be very reinforcing to someone attempting to get the focus on them no matter what that requires.
Usually kids diagnosed with behavioral disorders or pervasive developmental disorders would be more likely to have aggressive behaviors trying to get attention. This is due to limited communication abilities in which the self abuse and aggression are ways to get needs met that require you helping them in order for the needs to be satisfied (ex. getting food or drink).
While it may seem logical to just ignore all attention seeking behavior and give praise when your child is being good, I know this is easier said than done. It is even more difficult when your child has additional behavioral problems that occur with signs of ADHD or characteristics for autism that have a difficult time calming themselves when upset. You may go through something referred to as an extinction burst that results in such a high intensity, you end up giving in because you just aren't quite sure what else to do to make them stop.
If kids are engaging in attention seeking behaviors, then chances are they have a need that is not being met. So, it is important to try to fulfill that need as much as possible proactively (prior) instead of in reaction to the behavioral problems. My son (born in 2006) was diagnosed with SPD and is constantly sensory seeking. Some days can be energy draining, to say the least. Now that he is much older, he has learned how to fulfill those needs without demanding us to play with him, so it does get better as they get older, I promise! Getting a brother and sister also actually helped a lot because they just LOVE watching him and playing with him, but the techniques listed below have helped even more.
One way to ensure they are getting the quality time they desire is to make sure to schedule a specific time that you spend one on one with your child for at least 15-30 minutes a day, but preferably longer. Some days may be longer and others only 15 minutes, but what’s important is that he/she knows this is your special time together.
Allow them to choose what activity you will do or what you will talk about.
Avoid any negative conversation or “You should do this or that” types of conversation.
Remind him/her of your special time together when he engages in attention seeking behaviors. Then, state that you need to finish what you are doing, but you promise to be able to do what they are asking during your special designated time.
Always follow through on this or they will learn that you are not good on your word.
Photo courtesy of Eric M Martin
In addition to the above techniques, if it seems they are constantly trying to you to play with them all of the time and require your focus so much that you are unable to get things done within the 10 minutes, involve him/her in the job you are working on.
If this involves dinner, allow them to help in any way possible. For laundry, let them load the washer, switch the loads, pour in soap, etc.
Usually, he/she will either be excited to be involved or start trying to find other activities that can be done alone without needing you as an alternative to helping with the chore.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule depending on your specific situation and if he or she has undesired behavioral episodes and has a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD NOS), you may require a different approach using Applied Behavioral Analysis.
What is most important is that you provide so much attention on a regular basis that he or she will not need to engage in attention seeking behavior as a method to get the focus on themselves.
I realize this can be difficult, as I myself have a son and daughter that constantly want me to play with them. However, I also realize that when I consciously focus on applying the above techniques, the behaviors will decrease substantially and they are much better at being able to play by themselves.
It may take a few weeks to get into the habit of spending regular time together and frequently giving words of praise and physical affection, but the more you do it the more natural it will become and the more you will see a difference.
When there's a situation that communication is lacking, it helps to try to anticipate their needs for food and drink or other things in advance. Of course it is still good to work on communication strategies, such as a picture exchange communication system, but encouraging that immediately prior to providing them with wanted items is better than having them immediately escalate into undesirable responses.
Developing a routine for meals, going to the bathroom, and other related needs throughout the day will help to limit the need to display attention seeking behaviors in order to get their needs met. You definitely don't want to wait until the last minute to give them things you know they will need and end up having a melt down or tantrum as a result that you have to wait out in order to avoid reinforcing the unwanted behaviors.
There's nothing worse than pushing a meal time off too much, having them immediately go into a melt down and knowing you have to wait for them to calm down before you give them what they need. It's SO much better to anticipate their need for food, prompt them to ask for food, then give it to them while they are calm.
If you haven't already, be sure to download my eBook with the best tips and techniques for helping all children by clicking the image below!