Be Careful What Type of Attention You Are Giving Your Child

parenting Jul 23, 2020
Be Careful What Type of Attention You Are Giving Your Child

At the end of the day, many of the questions we get stem from one single thing: your child’s behavior. Tantrums, respect, habits, and even self-confidence are influenced by their behavior. And your child’s behavior is largely shaped by one thing, too: how you deal with them.

So, before you go about changing your kid, why not change something you can control first? We’re talking about the attention you give them.

Today, we’re going to help you do exactly that by helping you become more aware of the attention you give your child and the best way to go about it.

Understanding the Attention-Seeking Behavior of Children

Kids are natural attention-seekers — it’s part of their DNA. You’re a big part of their world so they’re always finding ways to make sure they have your undivided attention. Kids are also sponges — they absorb everything around them.

Don’t make the mistake of underestimating your children’s knack for learning or their level of perception and critical thinking, they can put two and two together. Case in point: when your kid throws a tantrum in the middle of the supermarket and you promptly buy them a chocolate bar to get them to stop — they’re learning.

Your kid is learning that acting out gets them what they want, which is two things: your attention, and whatever they are throwing tantrums about.

Even if you don’t cave and get them the chocolate they want, your kid is still learning. If you scold them and punish them, they learn that you’ll still give them attention. They might not get the chocolate but they still got you to pay attention. One out of two things isn’t a bad deal, right?

This inadvertent reinforcement of bad behavior is a slippery slope, often leading to more tantrums or worse.

Three Types of Attention We Give Our Children

The best tool in our parental arsenal for nipping bad behavior in the bud is ensuring that we’re paying the right kind of attention to our kids. It’s a delicate balance, and the key lies in the kind of attention we’re doling out. There’s more to attention than meets the eye.

We can categorize the attention we give our child into three types: negative attention, no attention, and positive attention. Understanding these forms of attention is fundamental in shaping your parental strategies, your children’s behavior, and their overall development.

Negative Attention

Negative attention, like in our supermarket tantrum scenario above, involves reactions such as scolding or punishing a child for inappropriate behavior. Though these reactions may seem necessary or even natural for you as their father, they still fulfill one of the child’s primary objectives — gaining your attention.

For young children especially, any attention can feel rewarding. Even when it’s disapproving or punishing, negative attention is still better than no attention at all. As adults, we aren’t strangers to this concept either. It’s kind of like the saying in the press world: “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

The attention your child receives, even if it’s negative, still validates their actions and inadvertently encourages the repetition of such behavior, just so they can catch your attention again. In other words, your child quickly learns that acting out can still get them the attention they crave and need from you.

No Attention

If scolding your kid isn’t always the best solution to curbing bad behavior, what can you do? Well, some parents resort to the second type of attention — which is not giving any attention at all.

No attention, as the term suggests, involves ignoring your child when they exhibit inappropriate or problematic behavior. This could mean simply walking away or remaining silent during a tantrum, effectively denying your child the attention they seek.

The upside of this parenthood strategy is that it can help your child understand that acting out will not give the results they want — neither your attention nor the treat they threw the tantrum for. You’re not feeding their negativity.

This really does work. It might not feel good to do as a parent nor will it always be practical, especially if it happens in a public place, but some situations call for this type of attention. This might work better with older kids, ones who would feel embarrassed to act out in public or feel the social pressure to behave.

Positive Attention

Another way to put this is positive reinforcement, something we have discussed in other blogs and always highly encouraged. Positive attention involves acknowledging and rewarding your child for good behavior.

As fathers, we naturally expect good behavior from our children — so much so that sometimes we overlook the importance of recognizing and rewarding it. This lack of attention can unintentionally send the message that good behavior is less noteworthy than bad behavior.

Sometimes, all your kid wants to hear is a simple “Good job” or “Thank you” in return for the hard work or good deed they’ve done. And oftentimes, that’s also all you need to do to reinforce good behavior.

Think about it. When you do something nice for your partner and they shower you with kisses then gush about it to their friends, doesn’t that make you want to do it more? Or how about at work, when your boss recognizes your hard work and overtime, whether through promotion or compensation, doesn’t that make you want to go the extra mile?

So, practice positive reinforcement with your kids. Praise them when they share their toys with a sibling, acknowledge it when they finish their homework early, or simply say thank you when they do a chore you’ve asked them to do.

The Winning Strategy: Striking the Right Balance

Positive attention is always the best way to go, but there will still be times when negative attention and no attention may work in your favor. Finding the right balance is key.

This is especially true as your toddlers turn into teens. Having a solid bank of positive reinforcement with a splash of occasional negative attention and no attention from their formative years will go a long way toward making positive, lasting changes they will carry into adolescence.

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