The single most important thing that a child needs from their parent is demonstrable proof of their love. For most children, this comes in the form of their parent’s attention. If you don’t give it to them, they’ll do anything that they can to get it. Naughty or attention seeking children do not behave the way that they do because they are inherently bad, but because they need attention to grow and thrive.
Naughtiness is simply the most effective way that they have learned to get the attention they crave. They know that when they are bad and push their parent’s buttons, their parents respond by paying attention to them. They make no distinctions regarding positive or negative attention. They just want your attention any way that they can get it. It is your job to make sure that your children aren’t driven to seeking the wrong kinds of attention.
Children actually have a physiologically based need for attention. Studies show that without relationships and attention, babies have been known to suffer health complications and even die. We also know that proper levels of parental attention are connected to the body’s release of growth hormones as our children ages. For these reasons, children are very well equipped to single out the acts and behaviors that garner them the attention that they need.
It’s a simple act of survival on their part. As a parent, you need to know what kind of attention you are grooming your child to seek and respond to. There are three kinds:
Obviously the last is the most immediately dangerous. Children who do not get the attention they need cannot and do not develop properly. They suffer physical, emotional, and mental problems as a result of the neglect. What you are aiming for, of course, is to give your child positive attention, but often we find ourselves giving the exact types of negative attention that we are hoping to avoid.
In order to teach your child to respond and seek positive attention from you, you must be prepared to begin a preemptive campaign against the negative. You will need to catch your child in the act of being good, which can be much more difficult, than catching bad behavior. We are far more likely to take children’s good behavior for granted and punish their bad behavior. Still, if you make the effort it can be done. When you get your chance to praise your child, make sure that you are specific and authentic in your praise.
Don’t just dismiss them with a statement like “good job” that only invites them to feel dismissed. Instead use the opportunity to give them some real attention without demanding anything in return. Experts say that fifteen minutes of this kind of quality time can result in up to thirty minutes when your child will not need your attention. They will simply have enough for the time being.
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