Negative attention can take many forms, but one of them is allowing your child to take you away from something that is important to you. While positive engagement is crucial to our children’s development, passive or negative engagement achieves the opposite. Children who seek constant attention are not content, as their sense of worthiness relies on it. When a child succeeds in getting a parent to respond to his or her every whim or negative attention-getting behaviour, it deprives the child of acquiring different ways of belonging. The parental attention becomes a barrier to other resources that can help a child become self-sufficient and independent.
There is a tremendous misconception that good parenting is being available 100 per cent of the time. This is not true, and the outcome will not result in a securely attached individual; it will create unhealthy dependence and low self-esteem in the child.
What to do:
• Spend time with your child and commit to being present and engaged. Let them take the lead at play or choosing outings. This positive, intentional time gives you a chance to lock in your child’s strengths and to experience the feeling of being appreciated rather than annoying.
• Help your child become independent and self-sufficient by ignoring undue attention. You can respond politely once and then get back to your task.
• If your child is stuck in asking, “Why?” to take your attention away from what you are doing or who you are visiting, you can limit the number of times you will answer. Spot the difference between true curiosity and idle questions.
• Help your child find constructive strategies to occupy their time. Show faith and respect to your child by believing they can entertain themselves—short periods when they are young of course.
• Notice when your child is cooperating and engaging positively. Recognizing these times will help your child re-evaluate the various ways to engage beyond demanding undue attention.
Children need our attention, but we must be aware of the different kinds of attention. Notice that your child can handle many situations if you don’t interfere. Lovingly holding back contributes to the long term goal of nurturing resilience and the ability for your child to have a satisfying life—a life where they aren’t stuck on short-term goals but able to roll up their sleeves, do what it takes and succeed.