Does my child ‘attention-seeking’ mean something is wrong?

Your child wants you to watch what he/she does. He/she wants you to feed her when he/she can feed herself. He/she constantly demands that you help with things he/she can do or says ‘no’ to things he/she actually wants – seemingly to spite you. These and other behaviours are those parents experience which might make them wonder, what is wrong with my child? Why are they being so demanding of my attention? They have my attention all the time.

Well sometimes it can be useful to see these ‘attention-seeking behaviours’ as a communication. The child who runs off when all they really want is for someone to chase them. What your child may be trying to do is to keep you close. This may be what they need to help them feel safe or to ensure that they are ok and with someone that can sensitively respond so they can feel safe to explore the world.

What’s the difference between attention seeking and proximity-seeking?

As babies we need to seek closeness to an adult who can protect us and keep us safe in the world and this need is considered a ‘biological drive’ i.e. it helps us to survive. Therefore we need to attract the attention of others in order to keep them close. Sometimes this attention is a negative behaviour such as crying or hiding which requires others to find us, soothe us and reassure us that they are there to support us.

At times when we feel overwhelmed we may need a significant person in our life to be ‘tuned in’ to us and to understand what we are asking for. However, sometimes we need to get the attention of the other to let them know that this is what we need. Once we have what we need we can relax and the ‘attention-seeking’ is not as frequently required. As we learn that others can be relied upon to give us what we need we feel more confident to separate from them and explore the world.

What can I do to reassure my child that they are safe?

  • Show them that you are available and ready to respond when they need you.
  • Respond sensitively and help them to understand their feelings by seeing things from their perspective and naming their feelings.
  • Value your child and recognise them for who they are.
  • Help them to feel confident and to make choices within safe boundaries.
  • Help them to feel like they belong and that they can trust others.

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