An empty emotional cup can lead to attention-seeking behaviour from children
Everyone wants to be noticed. Nobody wants to be a shadow. Feeling invisible to people or getting the idea that people feel indifferent to us is a very painful experience. And children feel it even more intensely than adults do.
Children are extremely sensitive and perceptive to vibes around them as they have far less emotional protection than adults. This is why we need to be awake and aware of their emotional needs.
Mastering attention seeking
They are also learning how to master the attention game to get their needs met. In fact, they are born Automatic Attention Seeking Devices. Before they have words they use their body language and their cries to attract the attention of adults to meet their needs for love, nurturing, sustenance and protection. In the infant years they know very well how to convey that they are tired, hungry, thirsty or in need of attention. For the most part, adults are very attentive while while their children are in what I call ‘the nappy bag phase’. They are prepared for these needs and they respond to them.
Just think of what is in that ever-present nappy bag: not one nappy but five, not one change of clothes but a few, not one dummy but two, something to eat, a few bottles to drink, something to teethe on, toys to play with and a blanket for warmth or to go to sleep with. In fact, if you didn’t make it home for 24 hours you and your baby would survive.
But, something happens beyond the nappy bag. In our busyness we seem to stop preparing for the inevitable: that our children will become tired, hungry, thirsty or bored. We don’t go prepared when we leave the house with our children and we often get caught short when out and about.
Playing the attention-seeking game
When our children’s basic needs of being tired, hungry, thirst and bored go unnoticed or we are unprepared for them because we packed nothing to eat, drink or play with, children will resort to negative attention-seeking behaviour to shine a light on their needs. This applies from babies through to children in their early teens.
And if, as parents, we still don’t take the cues from their behaviour, we might land up disciplining them for misbehaving instead of fulfilling the unmet need. This can result in a vicious cycle of disciplining, whinging, whining and complaining and doesn’t lead to family harmony and relationships based on trust.
Basics to remember
Parents need to wake up and attend to the basics, no matter how busy they are. If you do, your children feel safe and secure. In the fact, your reading their real needs means their attention-seeking crying, being cheeky, argumentative, sulking or throwing tantrums becomes unnecessary. Remember these basics:
- All children get tired, hungry, thirsty, tired and need your attention – never forget this.
- Children do not operate at an adult’s busy pace – sometimes we need to slow down to their pace too.
- Sharing time, space and pace is a conscious choice that has a similar effect to pouring water and fertiliser over a plant – it makes children flourish.
- A good routine makes children feel safe and secure – knowing the order of the day – when we wake up, eat, play, go to school, bath, go to bed etc.
- When you are with your children be with them rather than on your devices – switch off and be present – role model wanting to be with them and giving them your full attention.
- Do things together – not just going on outings but the daily chores around the house – kids love being involved and spending time with you, doing what you do.
- Children are a captive audience when they are in the car and we spend a lot of time in the traffic today whatever our mode of transport – talk, sing and play word games together.
- Play and eat together often. It doesn’t have to be three hours of Monopoly, it can be a ten minute card game or having a swim or going for a walk to the park together.
- Make lots of eye contact with your children because it conveys so much that words cannot.
In our busy, multi-tasking lives we don’t have time for our children to have continual meltdowns and tantrums. If they have your attention in ways that make them feel you are really there for them physically and emotionally, they won’t feel invisible and then they won’t need to behave badly to get your attention.
All they want is to know that you see them, you hear them and that they are important to you in some way every day. How are you conveying these messages to your children?
Nikki Bush runs Parenting on the Workshops that provide parents with tools and ideas to manage the attention-seeking games families face. Book her now.
She will be presenting her acclaimed Parenting on the Run workshop at The Working Mothers Expo at Sandton Convention Centre on Sunday 6 November at 1pm
The Working Mothers Expo, in partnership with MiWayLife, brings together everything working mothers need under one roof on 4-6 November 2016 at the Sandton Convention Centre. With world class products, services and speakers, emcees Elana Afrika and Claire Mawisa and great entertainment for your kids, this is an event not to be missed! Bring the whole family – Dads / Partners get in FREE with our Group Ticket! Tickets at Computicket