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Reasons Children Seek Attention

by Julie Anne Fidler
A child's attention-seeking behavior could have a simple explanation, or there could be more than meets the eye.

A child's attention-seeking behavior could have a simple explanation, or there could be more than meets the eye.

When children want attention, they let you know it. It can be frustrating when your child acts out and disrupts family dinner time or a classroom of peers, even in a playful way. A simple “no” might not be enough to curb unwanted behaviors. Children also seek out positive attention, which builds their confidence and self-esteem.

Not Enough Attention

Children who don't get enough positive attention will increase their negative behaviors to warrant a response from adults.

When children misbehave, it is for one of two reasons, according to Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions: either they are starving for attention or they are getting too much of it. In a Today.com article, McCready writes that young ones will act out in an effort to gain a genuine emotional connection and positive attention if he doesn’t feel like he belongs. Toddlers who are whiny, clingy, or act helpless, for example, desire more positive attention from their parents.

Too Much Attention

Toddlers and adolescents often act out to assert their power and authority over their own lives.

Parents might love doting on their little one and spoiling him rotten, but giving a child everything he desires can turn the little darling into an attention addict. Parents and caregivers might inadvertently start neglecting their own needs in order to grant their child’s every wish and whim. Though the adults mean well, the more their own needs take a backseat, the angrier they can become over their child’s constant needs and demanding ways, according to HealthyPlace.com. According to McCready, parents who do everything for their child can wind up smothering him and preventing him from growing and maturing on his own. “How can a child ever feel capable if mom/dad do everything for him?” McCready asks. Too much coddling can backfire, making children feel like they have no control over their lives. Defiance from little ones and adolescents are often their way of asserting their own authority and struggling to have a bit more control over their decisions and circumstances.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

ADHD is a disorder that causes attention-seeking behaviors in children and teens.

A 2008 study by British psychologist Nigel Mellor found that the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are often mistaken for mere attention-seeking behavior and vice-versa, including excessive activity, trouble concentrating and impulsiveness. Mellor and his colleagues found that children who were trying to get attention but were not diagnosed with ADHD did so to get a response from nearby adults and were able to relate to older or younger children, but not their peers. None of this applied to the children identified as having ADHD, however. Mellor said that “being able to correctly identify those children with ADHD from those who attention-seek will enable us to ensure that we can focus the right kind of support to the right people."

Reactive Attachment Disorder

In some cases, children who constantly seek attention have reactive attachment disorder.

In extreme cases, attention-seeking behavior can be a sign of a disorder called reactive attachment disorder. Children who have RAD have often had multiple caregivers or experienced frequent changes in caregivers and might seek attention from anyone and everyone, even strangers. According to MayoClinic.com, inappropriately childish behavior, constantly asking for help completing tasks and anxiety are all potential signs of RAD.

About the Author

Julie Anne Fidler is the author of "Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst." She has written dozens of newspaper and magazine articles, as well as nationally syndicated promotional radio spots. She is a legal blogger for a national law firm, and writes a blog about mental illness and the Christian church at PsychCentral.com.

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