Who doesn’t like attention, right? If we didn’t, Mark Zuckerberg, creator of Facebook, wouldn’t be a billionaire and “instafamous” would not be a word in our vocabulary.
Humans desire to be known, to be part of a tribe, and to know that someone sees us.
That’s universally true for any human being starting at birth.
In our dad’s meet-up group, one of the guys shared the story of his daughter who complained about a chronic stomachache. He and his wife went out of their way to take care of her, taking her to doctors and getting her the food that sounded good. They did what any good parents would do in that situation.
Eventually, the man’s daughter admitted that she was just complaining about her stomach to get attention. OUCH!
Have you ever been in a similar scenario?
Needless to say, kids crave attention.
And dads, we know this intuitively. How many times, when your child is doing something they shouldn’t be doing, have you immediately thought, “they just want attention right now?”
The problem is that parents, myself included, tend to focus more attention on their child’s bad behavior than on their good behavior.
Now, I’m going to say something to you dads that you’re not going to like.
Your tendency to focus on the bad behavior is the cause of your child’s bad behavior early on.
Let that sink in. A lot of the bad behavior in little kids is the result of our inability to give them the right kind and the right amount of attention.
There are three different types of attention that you could give to your children:
Positive attention is acknowledging when your child does something right. It is when you highlight their kindness for a friend, respectful behavior toward another person, or the fact that they effortlessly follow your household rules.
Gratitude isn’t really gratitude until it’s spoken out loud.
Negative attention is acknowledging when your child does something wrong. It is when you talk with your child about their behavior and decide on a consequence. It’s also when you yell and discipline in the heat of the moment without really thinking it through.
Negative attention is still a reward. Remember, we all crave attention no matter what kind. In fact, hear this: if you give your kids negative attention consistently, it teaches them to keep interrupting you or disrespecting you. BECAUSE every time they do it to you, you reward them with attention.
A third option is ignoring bad behavior when it happens. I’ll talk a little bit more about this below, but one way of giving the right kind of attention is not giving negative attention when your child is misbehaving.
The bottom line that our children want our attention, no matter what kind they get. If we don’t give any, they will go out of their way to get negative attention even if it means getting in trouble.
So, what do we do?
We need to give our kids positive attention!
What does positive attention look like?
Positive attention involves unsolicited affirmation. Some phrases I’ve used for my kids in the past have been:
- You played with your brother so well this morning
- You should be proud of yourself for finishing that book
- You did such a great job putting your clothes in the hamper today
- That was a really nice thing you did for your sister this afternoon
Can you give too much positive attention?
Yes! Too much positive attention can set your children up for failure later on in life. And I’ll give you a personal example that makes sense of this point.
Recently I’ve been concern that my own children have unrealistic expectations for the amount of time I can give them. I have a flexible schedule and can be at a large number of their events and school programs. I can leave during the day and show up to support them and cheer them on.
As a result, they now expect that out of me – all the time. And when I don’t show up, they are devastated – to the point of tears.
I love that they are appreciative of the time I give them. But, at the same time, they are going to encounter disappointment in life. They’re going to be told “no.” And, when they do, will they be able to handle it the right way?
Kids need to have a realistic picture of life.
So, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can teach my children how to manage their emotions and deal with life when they encounter disappointment. Part of the answer is to NOT GIVE MY CHILDREN TOO MUCH ATTENTION EVEN IF IT’S POSITIVE.
With all that being said, here are 5 ways to give your the right type of child attention:
1. Focus on the positives as much as possible.
Make a HUGE deal out of the good things that they do.
2. Spend some alone time with them.
This is especially important if you have multiple children. If you typically do everything together as a family, it can be a significant moment for your child when they get to spend time with just you.
3. Teach them to ask for what they want.
As your child grow up and begins to understand the world, they should learn the right way to communicate.
A great example of this in my own life was when my daughter began stomping and grunting around the house until she calmed down. Eventually, I asked her, “Are you doing that because you want mommy and daddy to play with you?” “Yes,” she said. So, my wife and I took the opportunity to tell her that she can just ask us for it.
In fact, now that she’s older, she can verbalize to us when she wants our positive attention. In those moments, she literally says, “Dad, I need some attention right now.” And, of course, I drop everything I’m doing because how many times does any child actually say that to their dad?! Melts my heart every time.
4. Teach your child what TO DO not what not to do.
Podcast Ep. 109 Can You Give Your Kids Too Much Attention?
5. Ignore bad behavior.
Instead of giving in to the bad behavior by yelling or disciplining, ignore it and don’t give them the negative attention they’re seeking. This is extremely hard to do, but it works.
If you’re uncomfortable ignoring your kid, add this phrase to your tool belt: “I see what you’re doing but I’m not going to talk with you until you are ready to stop.”
Giving your kids the right kind of attention is an art and not a science. You’re going to experiment over and over again until you find the formula that works for you and your family. Remember that you’re setting your child up for success in the long run because you’re teaching them to deal with life in a healthy way.