Attention seekers and “empty cups”


Listen carefully and pause to think after reading this next phrase:

Your kids will get your attention one way or the other. 

Read that again, out loud…here, I’ll help

“The reality is that my child will get my attention one way or the other…whether I like it or not”

We have all seen it…kids who do a variety of things “for attention.”  From dance routines in the restaurant to counting in a foreign language to funny fart sounds with an armpit (a classic).  All behaviors that draw attention, both in good ways and not-so-good. 

It starts early.  Not long after they learn to talk, here it comes, “Hey, look at me!”  At least at this age it is obvious.  They are actually asking for the attention rather than getting it as a by-product of some behavior.  It is clear, right in your face.  It is not far at all from “Hey, pay attention to me.”  If only it were always this blatant.

Kids do so many things to draw attention to themselves.  Truly, it is not a bad quality to have if used appropriately and with behaviors that you actually want to occur again.  The problems come from when those attempts do not work.  

You’re job is to decide how you want them to get your attention (not really hard), to respond to them when they use those behaviors (kinda hard), to NOT respond to them when they try other ways (hard, truly) and to realize when they are doing things just for your attention (harder yet).

Lets start here:

I’m a “cup-full / cup-empty” guy (there is research behind this, so its really more than just me being me).  Truly, this is an example of being hungry versus being full.  People will do crazy stuff when they are hungry for food, attention, sex, etc.  Those behaviors get crazier when the initial attempts do not work and they are then more and more hungry, attention starved, etc.  You’ve seen the reality shows…c’mon, you know what I’m talking about.

Same thing with your kids.  If their “cup” is not filled, if they are attention “hungry,” they will behave in ways that often result in attention.  Don’t get me wrong, they might not be doing this purposefully (“I am going to pull the cat’s tail to get it to scream, then mommy will come running”), it is just how behavior works.  If they are not getting the attention, they will ultimately get the attention and likely with behaviors you don’t like and don’t want to see again.  

You HAVE to respond to the cat screaming, your underwear in the fan, mayonnaise in the baby’s hair, the phone being dialed that sounds a lot like 9-1-1, the dirty word or the ugly “where did you learn that” dance.  You have been there. 

If you don’t “fill their cup,” you will automatically be teaching them the more ridiculous and disruptive you are, the more likely it is I will pay attention to you.  EESSHH

If this sounds like your house, like your kids (all kids do it when “hungry”), make a point to pay more attention to the things you want: ask them to tell you a story, help in the kitchen, play a game, etc.  Set a timer, put something in your pocket or refrigerator to remind you – “hey go pay that kid some attention.”  It really does not matter, just as long as you are “filling the cup.”

The cup is always leaking, some kids leak faster than others and require more frequent attention, but “every now and then attention” keeps most kids “full.”  

My bet is the craziness will go away because they will already be “full.”

Do it on your terms…your kid does not come with a “30 miles till empty” warning. 

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