Attention and Misbehavior


Children are in such great need for attention that if that need builds up without being met, misbehavior can be the result. Even punishment is attention to a child. Thinking about a child’s need for attention, the following three reactions to misbehavior may or may not be likely to be successful.
  1. We can ignore bad behavior thinking that is the best way to not encourage the misbehavior. But, when the child is ignored, he still needs the attention he wanted and very well may just continue misbehaving – maybe even in bigger ways since what he did before didn’t work.
  2. We can get upset and punish the child. Now the child has been successful in getting attention. He had some not-so-good results (punishment), but he also got extra large doses of attention. It probably involved lots of emotion, time, and even being touched – pulled, pushed, or spanked. The punishment may continue for some time and mean telling the story to others, which is even more attention. It doesn’t matter that it is bad attention. Attention is attention to a child, good or bad. Since the misbehavior was successful in getting attention, the misbehavior may continue or be repeated, rather than stop.
  3. We can matter-of-factly use consequences to deal with the misbehavior. For example, not coming in from playing when called can have the consequence of not being able to play outside the next day. (You can read more about consequences at Kids and SharingKids and Sharing, part 2, or Sticking to the Rules.) Using your matter-of-fact voice to insist on consequences does not create much attention. It is a “the rule is the rule” approach. The misbehavior turns out to be a bad deal – consequences with little attention. The child will need to look for some way other than that misbehavior to get attention. This is the solution most parents are looking for.