When Your Child Demands A Lot of Your Attention

When Your Child Demands A Lot of Your Attention
María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

It is normal for children to need your attention and approval. However, the search for attention becomes a problem when it happens all the time. As charming as their need for attention can be, it may become a way for them to keep control of the situation when they are feeling insecure.

Many children will behave negatively just so that adults will listen to them. Excessive attention seeking can result in your child wanting to control your life.

Many children misbehave in order to draw attention to themselves. This is the most notorious reason behind bad behavior in young children. If not dealt with in time, this can turn into discipline problems during childhood and in the future, during adolescence. If bad behavior is allowed, or a child is given attention for misbehaving, the seed will be planted for tyranny in the future.

when a child demands a lot of your attention

Your goal is not to eliminate your child’s need for attention and approval, because this is natural for them to need it. When you handle these situations correctly, your child’s need for attention can be a useful tool for improving their behavior.

It is not necessary to eliminate their need for attention, but their unacceptable attention seeking behaviors. 

An example of how to properly pay attention to children can be observed in the following sentence that a parent tells her child:

‘Honey, I know you want me to stay and paint with you, but I’m busy now. If you can be patient and paint by yourself for ten minutes, then I can come and paint with you for a while.’ 

This way, the child will get the attention they need, and learn to wait.

When Your Attention Is Too Much

This is up to you. How much of your attention can you tolerate giving to them? The general rule is that children will seek as much attention as you are able to give them.

You must find the balance between how much your children want your attention and how much you can give at certain times. Even normal attention seeking can be stressful on especially hectic days.

Don’t let your children’s need for attention become a constant demand. When children are not getting enough attention, they resort to behavioral outbursts, tantrums, acting annoying, mocking, and any other unpleasant behaviors you can imagine.

Their thought process is: ‘If I can’t get attention for being good, then I’ll behave badly to get Mom’s attention.’ And if they do, this will negatively reinforce the behavior and it will continue in the future because that is how they can get your full focus.

It is never too late to have a happy childhood.

-Tom Robbins-

Different Types of Attention

Attention and approval from adults are the most important rewards for children. Unfortunately, parents often fail to use attention wisely. There are three types of attention: positive attention or reinforcement, negative attention or reinforcement, and no attention.

girl crying and seeking your attention

When the children are given attention and approval for behaving well, they are receiving positive attention. Positive attention means praising positive behavior when it happens and focusing on this behavior.

Positive attention can appear in the forms of words of praise or encouragement, closeness, hugs, or high-fives. Leaving a nice note also works very well. Positive attention increases good behavior.

On the other hand, when you give your child attention for their bad behavior, you will be giving him negative attention or negative reinforcement. Negative attention usually starts when something they are doing annoys you.

You can make threats, get angry, or even resort to screaming. But negative attention for children is not a punishment, it is a reward. It does not punish misbehavior, or reduce it, but instead it increases it.

Non-attention is also an option. When children do not receive positive attention from you, they will want your attention any way they can get it. Do not pay any attention to bad behavior and pay attention to good behavior only.

This way, you won’t be reinforcing bad behavior. It won’t happen in the future, and your child will learn that they only get attention with good behavior.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Nascimento, E. L., & Lustosa, F. (2013). La distinción entre refuerzos positivo y negativo en los libros de enseñanza de análisis de la conducta. Perspectivas em análise do comportamento4(1), 10-19.
  • Piazza, C. C., Bowman, L. G., Contrucci, S. A., Delia, M. D., Adelinis, J. D., & Goh, H. L. (1999). An evaluation of the properties of attention as reinforcement for destructive and appropriate behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis32(4), 437-449.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.