The Parent-Teacher-Child Connection: Consider your child's motivation - Part 2: Attention

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Consider your child's motivation - Part 2: Attention

You've heard it many times before: "Ignore him, he's just looking for attention."  JUST looking for attention?  Don't we all crave attention of some sort?  Women like to receive flowers once in a while "JUST because."  Men JUST want a pat on the back for a job well done within their job description, whether at home or at work.  Everyone JUST wants to be recognized as a person who is appreciated by those around them.  Why are children any different?  They may look for positive attention in negative ways because they don't know any different.  When they throw a temper tantrum, the well-meaning parent may give the child plenty of attention by yelling right back at her.  A better approach would be to give negative attention for negative behavior (walk away and ignore the tantrum!)  Then when the child is doing something right no matter how small (like coloring within the lines), it's our job as parents to recognize the little successes in life so children learn that they can get positive attention for positive behavior. 

ATTENTION - Consider this scenario:  Many years ago, I was at the home of my daughter's friend and his younger sister.  Their mother had gone off to work, leaving two teenagers at home to fend for themselves (more on that topic in another blog!)  The big brother made dinner - a steak on the barbecue with a baked potato and a salad.  Not bad for a 16-year-old boy!  He set the plate down in front of his sister and that's where the trouble began.  She said, "Would you cut my steak?"  She was 14 and totally capable of cutting her own steak.  He retorted, "Cut your own (bleep) steak."  She whined back, "Pleeeese?"  The converstion repeated like a stuck sound track.  At that I could see a nice dinner turning into a shouting match, so I pulled my daughter's friend aside and explained about motivation.  I told him that she didn't really want her steak cut. "Yes, she does," he responded. "Not really," I said. Then I told him that she simply wanted her older brother to take care of her in a way that their mother was  not doing at that time.  He misted up then went in and silently cut his sister's steak.  I left and he later told me that they actually enjoyed their dinner together. Crisis averted!  To this day, if his own children seem to be demanding undue attention, he'll look at me and say, "They want their steak cut, right?"  I simply smile and nod. 

The most common reason children misbehave is to get attention. When adults don’t give children needed attention, they will try to find other ways to get it.  Unfortunately, we don’t always see the positive things children do to get attention, like making good grades in school or doing their chores at home. Instead, we are most likely to notice them when they do something that we don’t like. Children would rather have negative attention than no attention at all. If we give children attention only when they act up, we teach them that misbehaving is the best way to get our attention, and they act up even more. If we give children attention only when they are doing things that please us, we teach them that behaving is the best way to get the attention they want. If you feel annoyed, irritated, or guilty by your child’s misbehavior, the child probably is seeking attention.  So, ignore the negative attention-getting devices and reward (hugs, recognition, etc.) the positive attempts to gain parental attention. 

Happy Parenting!
 

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