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Handling Negative Attention-Seeking Behaviors

Whether it’s by pushing your buttons, hooking you into a power struggle or ignoring you so you have to repeat yourself 20 times, your child knows how to get your attention. And it works!

They successfully keep you engaged, even though it’s often through negative behavior that compromises the relationship you want to have with your child.

Underneath all that clamoring for your attention is your child needing to feel settled and connected (i.e. regulated). So how do we give them the kind of attention that helps them feel seen and heard and regulates them to better deal with their day? And how do we find the time to do what we need to do without ending up completely frustrated and frazzled by the end of the day?

Today I’m going to recommend a strategy to meet your child’s need for attention in a way that makes your relationship better and doesn’t reinforce the negative behavior they’re using to get your attention.

I call it "hang out time" and it requires only three things:

  1. Consistency

  2. Predictability

  3. Curiosity

Consistency - try this every day for the next 2 weeks. It takes time to build a new habit and it will take time for your child to trust what’s happening. It’s better not to start until you are ready than to undermine trust by starting and stopping.

Predictability - choose a hang out time before noon that can be pretty much the same every day. For instance - after breakfast, before you “go to work”, mid morning break, lunch.) That way your kiddo knows what to count on. Set the container for the hang out time. “Let’s hang out for 10 minutes before dad starts work.”

Curiosity - Be curious about what your child is doing rather than planning something you want to do. Your job is simply to breathe and hang out. Whatever their age, you could join them in what they’re doing in the moment (playing legos, imagining bad guys, drawing, watching a video, playing a video game (Yes, I said that. Hang out. Get curious.) This is child-directed time. If they don’t know what they want to do, suggest something you know they like. “Let’s play Uno.” “Let’s watch a YouTube video about (fill in the thing that interests them).” “Let’s share some hot chocolate.”

A predictable hangout time with no agenda gives your child the attention they need without rewarding those negative attention-seeking behaviors. If you set aside a moment to focus on your child, you may find that you have a little more time to focus on yourself as well!

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