Children, teenagers, adults – we can all be attention-seeking. Even if we shy away from direct attention, we would never want to be ignored by others or feel unvalued. And that’s why positive attention is such a powerful tool – it’s something we all crave.
We’re all attention-seeking
Most of the time, it’s an insult to call someone an “attention-seeker”. We do it when we believe they’re behaving in a way to get a reaction out of us and it can be annoying.
But we all long for attention to one degree or another because having our efforts noticed or our hard work complimented is a lovely feeling. It makes us feel validated, appreciated, and valued.
Children are no different – they thrive on attention.
The benefits of getting attention
Humans are sociable creatures – we live in groups; we share resources; we collaborate with each other; we choose to spend time together. This is why attention is so important to us – we want to know that we are valued by the rest of the group. We want to know that the people in the group care about us and that we are not alone.
We look to the attention of others to reassure us that:
- We are valued
- We have something to offer
- They care about us
- We are doing the right thing
- We are worthy
- We are loved
- We are part of the group
If you’ve ever been in a room full of people and felt lonely, you’ll understand why the attention of others is so important to our mental well-being.
Negative attention is a substitute for positive attention
The thing is, it is often bad behaviour that gets the most attention. A child who just fits in will often be overlooked, whereas a child who behaves badly will constantly get a reaction out of those around them.
As parents of the 21st century, I’m sure you’ll relate to this scenario:
Suddenly I notice she’s decided to start throwing a ball at the TV!
I immediately jump up and tell her to stop. I either get really annoyed, or try to distract her by playing with her cars to encourage her to come back to them.
The problem is, I’ve just taught her that being naughty gets my attention – it’s the cause-and-effect idea. When she plays quietly, I ignore her and do my work. But when she starts doing the wrong thing, I lavish attention on her.
Positive attention is always preferable, but negative attention is better than no attention at all. And rewarding bad behaviour with attention encourages our children to repeat that behaviour again…
Make time for positive attention
This is why it’s so important to make positive attention a priority. We need to readjust the balance so that positive attention is so readily available that they don’t need to look for the negative type.
We can train our children to behave well by making sure we make a fuss of them when they behave the way we want them to. And it’s a much kinder way of doing it than always saying “no” to their bad behaviour, or constantly lecturing them about the right way to behave.
I’m not saying you need to reel off a 20 minute speech about how wonderful your kids are every time they make their bed. But, if we go back to the laptop scenario, just take the time to look up from your work and tell your child how well they’re behaving. Let them know how grateful you are and that their contribution is making it easier for you to get your work finished.
This shift in focus also has the added benefit of boosting our kids’ confidence. You will be confirming that they are good people with value and something to offer the world. You are reinforcing the idea that they are deserving of attention and love.
You are telling them that you want to give them attention because you have given it without them asking for it.
Look for ways to give positive attention
It’s a new way of thinking and it can feel strange to spontaneously comment on “normal” behaviour (as opposed to a naughty behaviour), but it can make the world of difference.
So start consciously looking for reasons to compliment your kids. Here are a few things you could look out for:
- Doing their homework without being asked
- Offering to help make tea
- Playing nicely with their siblings
- Sharing their toys
- Helping a friend out
- Owning up to a mistake
- Following instructions straight away
When you catch them being good, TELL THEM! Let them know that you’ve noticed!
Positive attention is free. It is something we, as parents, love to give. And it’s something that our children love to receive. But so often it is forgotten. Let’s bring back positive attention and lavish it on our children with all the love and kindness we can muster – everyone will be better off for it!
Do you actively give positive attention to your kids or is it something you hadn’t considered before? What sort of positive attention works with your children? Tell me something your child has done well this week (big or small)! Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
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