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Attachment-Seeking: Reframing How We View Negative Behavior

February 05, 20242 min read

Children need attention like a plant needs sun and water. - Rudolf Dreikus

If the pandemic taught us anything, it taught us to slow down and appreciate the moments we have with our loved ones. On the flip side, it has also caused some additional stressors for parents as they had to play the role of teacher while also fulfilling their work demands. And as we knew before the pandemic, children will do just about anything to get attention. And since secondary attachments to teachers and coaches have become limited, children began looking to their parents to fill their attachment needs. As Rudolf Dreikus said, “Children need attention like a plant needs sun and water.” So, when did we conclude that wanting attention is a bad thing?


Parents are busy with a varying number of essential things, and “attention-seeking” behaviors seem to always come at the wrong time. The problem is that the need for attention is a need for attachment, which is a biological need for survival, according to the attachment theory. When children don’t get quality connection time with their parents, they are more likely to act out. Unfortunately, these behaviors trigger parents to punish their child, which gives them the attention they are seeking, whether ideal or not. And although parents don’t intentionally want to reinforce their child's negative attention-seeking behaviors, their response does just that. 

A better approach to this is to reframe how we see these types of behaviors. When parents understand the acting out actions are because their children are seeking a connection, parents are then more likely to change their approach. By scheduling in time each day to connect with their child, parents can lessen the negative attention-seeking behaviors. Additionally, catching children being good and praising them with positive attention will help keep their “attention tanks” full and reinforce positive behaviors. Too often, parents take good behavior for granted and come to expect it, but highlighting children’s efforts is essential for these efforts to continue.

The Parent SKILLZ curriculum which is taught at Apexx was created to help inspire parents to rethink their approach to parenting. Within the program, parents learn and practice each skill to take their parenting to the next level. Each of the eight skills requires only 10 minutes a day to implement but has a long-lasting impact on the parent-child bond. The instructors in the SKILLZ classes also implement these skills to support critical secondary attachments. The simple yet effective strategies create relationships that give children a sense of security and help the development of their emotional self-regulation skills.

When we focus on positive things, we see more of those things. In parenting, the goal is to make positive reinforcement as natural as possible. When we understand that “attention-seeking” behaviors are simply a child’s way of wanting a relationship, we become more mindful of our responses. As Dr. Jody Carrington said, "Every time you think of calling a kid, 'attention-seeking' this year, consider changing it to 'connection-seeking' and see how your perspective changes."

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