What to do when kids are demanding your attention
February 5, 2024
In Episode 93, Kyle and Sara, LPC’s discuss how to handle kids when their need for attention seems to be endless. Most parents tend to approach these moments by ignoring it, punishing it, or giving into it. There is another way. We discuss 4 specific techniques to help shift this dynamic in the family today.
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Episode 93 Transcript:
As a parent, are you struggling with kids who demand your attention? And no matter how much you seem to give it to them, it's just never enough. Like they just seem like they want more and more and more. And it's just driving you crazy. And you wish you could change those dynamics. Well, in this episode, Sara and I discuss where that comes from, like what's driving the kid to do that and how can you change it? So at the end of the episode, we're going to give you four specific steps that we take in our home that's helped change those dynamics. To where the kids know how to get that need met without demanding it constantly and without it seeming endless.
Welcome to the Art of Raising Humans. Hello and welcome to Episode 93 of the Art of Raising Humans. I'm Kyle.
And I'm Sara. And man, we want to talk about kids needing attention, right? Yeah, you hear this one a lot where it's like, Oh, my kid is always demanding so much attention. And some kids really, yes, they're wanting a lot. Yeah, and it can be super annoying, right?
It can be. Or just hard.
You kind of feel bad because you're like, my kid wants so much and I don't, yeah. Well, it comes up in a lot of conversations, Sara. I'm sure the parents listening. It's like, man, what do you do when your kid just keeps, you know, wanting your attention, right? What do you and typically the go to for most parents is either resist it, you know, like maybe punish it even.
And then the other go to is ignore it, right? Just ignore it. Just like don't even acknowledge it, you know? So any time even we hear this from other other counselors at times who are helping parents, you know, this is something that you hear kind of, you know, especially it's kind of more of an old school type thing of it's an either or either we're going to tell them to stop it and get really mad about it or you just ignore it and don't even acknowledge it. Yeah. So we're kind of talking about a kid doing a behavior and people like, oh, they're just trying to get your attention. So it could be a tantrum or it could be someone not obnoxious, like kind of hitting you or or, you know, you're just like, oh, that's just an attention seeking behavior. Exactly. And so I learned early.
I was even taught that early. Oh, yeah. You just need to you just need to ignore it. If you if there's something they're doing, you know, making weird noises or whatever it might be, just ignore it. You don't want to give any attention to it.
Don't pay any mind. Yes. Yes. So for a long time, I you know, I even tried that with kids or I believe that, but you think I've just got to ignore it. Yeah. And then it'll go away because it doesn't work. Yeah. The thing I saw as a school counselor, Sara, in elementary school, kid raising his hand, wants to answer a question. And there's that kid who's going, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh. And so I hear all the time from teachers, just ignore that kid.
Just ignore it. Because if you answer the the belief is if you answer that, then that kid is going to believe that's the way to do it.
Well, and there's some truth there, right? Because our brains are wired for patterns. So then we think, oh, it was when I made that noise that she paid attention to me.
So that's how I've got to do it. So there is definitely some truth to it. You know, if I give it attention, then it reinforces. Then the child thinks, oh, that's what worked. If I scream, that's what worked. If I do that, that's what works. Yeah. So well, and that's when you think you've got to ignore it or you're going to be reinforcing this thing that isn't helpful or healthy. Well, so our training, it was very much early on.
This more behavioristic thing, right? There was really not as much focus on what's happening in journalism. But what I mean for the listeners, behavioristic, it's outward in thing. Right. So you change that behavior from the out in.
So you see the kid doing this behavior you don't like. Don't give them what they want, because if you give them what they want, it will tell them that's how to get it. And once again, that is true. So it's not like it's similar to to dogs.
Behavior is totally yes. They studied for centuries and go look up behaviorism. But but yes, if I give the dog a treat every time it puts his paw on a little stool, then the dog is learning that. So we apply those same things to humans.
And there's some truth there. Yeah. There is definitely even some dog training will say that. Right. So if a dog's doing what you don't want, turn away from a dog. Right. Don't pay attention to it. You know, you give the dog a treat when it's doing what you want. Exactly. So but the difference is, although there are similarities, between our kids and dogs, we have a bigger prefrontal cortex.
It's a little more nuanced. And we don't want to. We don't want to keep approaching them as dogs. So ourselves. Yes. We want to do something deeper. So let's let's dive into that instead of it looking at like, OK, so the kid just wants attention, which is kind of a judgment that the parent that you want to talk about the other option of punishing it. Oh, yes. I'm sorry.
Go back down to that. I mean, I think the other thing is, is people think I've got to shut down what they're doing. So the kid who goes, I won't stop. Then, hey, you're you need to go sit over. Yes. Or now you don't get to be part of the group or keep doing that. This is what's going to happen. Yeah, there's some sort of consequence for the kid who is doing a behavior you don't like or isn't helpful or could even be hurtful. You think I've got to ignore it. I've got to punish it or I've got to somehow convey this is bad. Don't you know, your attention seeking behavior will never work.
And this is what's going to happen. And the third one we see sometimes is just give in to it. Yes. Right. Like a lot of permissive parenting. You know, you see even movies kind of joke about that. Like, oh, if you're going to be a gentle parent, that just means that you're like, oh, honey, are you needing it?
Oh, OK, what do you need? You see a lot of those kinds of and there's some truth there because there's some parents who feel like anytime my child is doing something, I've got everything else in the world goes away and I'm just focused on my child.
And yeah, yeah. Yeah. And they they almost think they're doing something different, which is different than it is punishing it or ignoring it. But it's also maybe maybe not informed. Well, right. Because they they're they're missing the point.
I think in all three. Sure. The intention is to help the child to do better behavior. Yep. Yeah. Yeah. And at different times, I think we all fall. We can all fall into any one of those three.
So there's no judgment on that. Yeah, it's just today's conversation is about those three maybe aren't going in the direction we want or won't long term be helpful to us or the child. So what else can we do?
What's going on there? The fourth one that we won't go into today is just funny. And there was used to be a video we would show at parent conferences where the kid is about to want something or he wants his mom to buy him something and he starts to throw a tantrum and then the parent just gets on the ground and starts to throw a tantrum, too. And then the kid looks at the mom like, what is she doing?
Then the kid stops. She's like, fine, we're done. Right. It's almost like in that sense there.
You want to do that? I'll do this. Yeah. So that's a fourth one that no one really does.
But it's a funny one. But people want to do what we want to do is switch the conversation, then instead of how to stop that behavior, how to resist it, how to ignore it, how to give into it is really address the need, because that's the change in the conversation is reframing it, that there's a need there.
I know Dr. Becky Bailey, she'll say a lot that really what a kid wants. I mean, someone's a kid does want attention, but really what the kid's wanting is connection, meaning they're really just wanting you to turn towards them and see them. Yeah. Yeah. And that's the that's the need that you're trying to meet. That isn't met necessarily with the ignoring or the punishing. Right. And as a parent, that's really helpful to reframe or any parent, whatever.
You're taking care of kids. And if you think, oh, it's an attention seeking behavior, oh, you know, then it's almost it puts it in this light. But if you just see it as, oh, what's going on here? This kid seems to be trying to raise a flag, you know, and needing some connection, needing something. And then I just grow curious and and it changes my perspective on the situation.
And I address it differently with the child. When the reason why that's so important is, I mean, I had a lot of experience there, like I said, in the elementary school setting and seeing teachers do this with kids. And what I saw, either the kid, if you don't change this, if you don't reframe it and you keep seeing as just a behavior that's, quote unquote, bad, annoying or problematic for the kid and we just need to resist it, you know, I saw kids, I mean, when they were ignored, they either learn to just stop asking. Yeah. Yeah. Or, I mean, I saw a lot of kids who were just persistent as anything, dude.
They would go from to, like, throw in things. And that is the kid. So those were the kids that I feel like you mostly see as a counselor. You know, it's like there there is the kid who just learns to shut off. They just shut down. And they're the quiet little good kid because they realize no one's going to pay attention to me anyway.
You don't care what I do. Every time I wanted your attention. Yeah. Yeah. So I will be good. Yeah. But really, I've just shut down. Yeah. You know, there's a piece of that. But then the other kids are like, oh, oh, did that not work?
Oh, don't worry. I've got more of my arsenal.
I can up this. Yeah. Yeah. And they're going to keep going up and up and up. And then there's that third kid. They're that they eventually figure out, oh, I can get your attention. Yeah. And then the third kid, when you always give in to what there's, you know, always make them the high priority. Right. Every time. Boom. Yeah. Then that kid is like they don't have this correct concept of how the world works. Right. Yeah. They always think whenever they want attention in a connection, they can demand it and get it right. Yeah. And so that's not good either, because you want a kid to be able to understand that sometimes it just isn't the right time and space, you know, time, place. Right. They need to wait.
What can I do when it's not a good time or what do I do? Because those kids don't learn what to do in those situations. Yeah. So so wanting somebody's attention and trying to get their attention, we want to know it's this isn't a bad behavior. You don't need to resist it.
So reframe it. Yeah. You don't need to change it. It's a legitimate need. And they just we just want to teach them how to get that need met. Right. Isn't that the idea? Yeah. Right. So we really want to be able to see that thing. So like, I mean, it's awesome that those teachers who did this, it was really great that when the teacher saw that wasn't the kid trying to be annoying, the kid wasn't like, oh, by the way, when he's making that noise, he's raising his hand up in the air.
I'm so sorry. So it's the kid who has their hand raised and they're just like me, me, me. It doesn't translate on the microphone.
Thank you, Sara, for saying that. Yes. So that, you know, I'm talking about the kid who's raising their hand, going, me, look at me. I want to answer the question. I mean, that's practically jumping out of their seat. To me, that's a clap.
Or the other one is mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom. Right. Those are the classic ones of the kids.
So, yes, thank you for clarifying. But when the kid would do that is instead of seeing that as you could judge it as that kid is just annoying. That kid is saying, don't let anybody else answer. Just me. I have to be the one with the right answer. Right. You could see it at all. And not to say there's not even some truth in that, like the kid. But underneath that, underneath that, right. Every time those kids, they're anxious kids, you know, they're insecure.
You know, many times they're trying to prove, look, look, I'm smart. I'm smart.
I'm not dumb. Right. Let me answer so I can show you I know something. Right. Or I want the teacher to like me. So I really want or mom, I want you to what I'm saying, mom, mom, mom, mom. I'm saying, like, I want you to turn towards me and say you value me.
You know, like, Sara, I'm a middle kid. And so you are, too. So we think middle kids are cool. But as a middle kid, lots of times, Sara, I didn't think I could get my parents' attention because they were either too distracted by TV. Nowadays, it would be probably phones, you know, too distracted by TV or too distracted by their to do list that they had to do. So as a little kid, I actually had a stutter. You know, I stuttered for quite some time. And I try to like to I feel like part of the reason why I stuttered was because I wanted to get my voice heard. And I felt like my older sibling and my younger sibling, they were always had mom's ear or whatever. So I had to jump in real quick and say what I wanted to say. And my brain would just and I'd start to stutter.
And then that would really upset me because I'm like trying to say it fast. And that's probably why I'm a fast talker, even today, because I want to get in quick and I want to say it's super fast because I know mom's attention is short. So I got to get in really quick, you know? And I think that could look like from the outside, probably is an annoying, demanding kid. But the kid in me was just saying, I just really want to tell you this.
You know, I've been waiting all day to tell you this. And so now I'm afraid if I don't get you before the TV gets turned on or before you start looking at the phone or before you start doing dinner or whatever it is, I'm not going to be heard all day, you know? And then and then maybe I won't remember it anymore. Right. And so it's very urgent I get it out now. So if parents could switch that, you know, and see that differently. I think, too, sometimes it can look like that. Sometimes it can look like the kid who's being, so to speak, obnoxious. You know, so so we want to think about broaden that.
What is your kid's attention seeking behavior? And it could be picking fights, argumentative or, you know, just those annoying or what is going on? You just seem like you're constantly trying to get me to turn towards you, even if it's for the negative. Yeah. All right. It's because some kids feel like, well, the positive things didn't work.
You're just like, hey, great. And you you know, that's what you're wanting from me. I've got to turn towards the negative to really get you to turn towards me. Yeah. Yeah. So if you really got a conscious, it's just like that's what they have found to be successful. Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Oh, and they've also maybe watch other kids do it. And it works like I know I've seen our son being groups of people and he's waiting quietly and the kid who's obnoxious, the one who gets called on. Right. Yes. So I've seen our son go, do I need to do that? And so afterwards, I'll talk to him.
You're like, I'm confused. I'm just sitting here raising my hand and no one's calling me. But it's the kid that keeps yelling stuff out. He's rolling around on the. Yes, he's the one. And I understand the speakers doing that because they're like, well, I'm trying to gauge.
I want to engage that kid. Right. So so I also just in light of this, if you go even deeper, because this is more of an inside out approach to reaching the need rather than the behavioristic outside in. So in the inside out approach, you're also thinking of the where they're at in their brain, you know, at that moment. And if a kid is demanding or really you'll feel this anxiety in them to be seen, to be listened to, to be there in the limbic system.
And what we know about the limbic system is the question is, am I love? So if you want to know more about the brain science, go back to our earlier episodes, episodes one and two and three around there. We talk about the brain states and the kid is in the limbic system. And the question is, am I loved? And how do I get connection? How do I get connected with you in this moment? So it's really what the question we're trying to answer. Right. Yeah. So let's dive into we want to give really four concrete, specific, practical ways that you can help this meet this need without doing the ignore it, punish it. Yeah. There's other options.
So here are the other options to build skills, reframe. And remember, when we when we're meeting the need, what we're doing is actually helping the kid regulate the feeling that is then causing this behavior. Yeah. Yeah. So we're trying to write. And Sara, you were pointing out earlier, we have to be regulated. Right. So as a parent, in order to do these four things.
Yeah, because it can be really. I was just thinking how triggering it can be, you know, and especially if the child has learned in their brain, their approach to it.
And this is unconscious. But there's a piece of them that's like, in order to get your attention. I know if I they'll do something really challenging. So it pushes your buttons and that's natural. That's OK.
Just we just want to be aware. Like, wait a second. First, first, I need to get in a different place because I'm kind of mad at you right now or irritated.
Or, yeah, you're pushing my. So I want to get to a place where I am regulated, that I'm I'm seeing this differently. I'm able to reframe what's going on with you and not just feel me against you. Yeah. So the point of these four specific things you can be doing is we want to guide and teach the kid how to how to get their needs met in a way that is a win win. Yeah. Yeah. So the first one, sometimes kids get really anxious. They'll forget what they're wanting to connect with you on. Right. And so I saw that a lot in school with the kids who would be doing raising their hand, going is lots of they're trying to answer something and they're afraid they're going to forget it or they just something inspired them that the teacher was saying.
And that's cool. But they want to say it now and they're afraid they're going to forget because in their home, lots of times the parent will tell them to wait and they never come back. So so so then then the kid I've met a lot of kids who get really mad because when the parent comes back, they can't remember it now. Right. So what I would do with those kids and you can do this in your home is have some kind of sticky pad or some kind of thing that they could write that down. So then the kid gets into the habit of if this isn't the time right now and you really want to say to maybe the parents on the phone, maybe the parents do some kind of work or they need to go write it down.
So you won't forget it. And I found that was very relieving for kids to go, oh, yes, if I write it down real quick, then I can tell you later. Right. And they don't have to write the whole thing down, but they can write some key words to help them. You know, are so I've done that with some kids where I. We'll just take a brief second to turn towards them because I'm conveying this.
I see you. I see you have a need and I'll say, what's it about?
Don't tell me right now. And maybe they'll say this dinosaur I read about and I'll say, OK, I will hope you hold that.
I'll come back to you later. You know, I'll tell them you can tell me over this time, you know, I'll give them a time. And because sometimes our kids may want to say something late at night and I know they need to get to bed.
They got in the morning, something like that. I'll I'll just I'll help you hold that. And then in the morning I will come back to you and whatever time and I can connect with you on that because then they feel a little that moment of seen and heard and valued. And and it relieves you just see them go, oh, OK, great. Thank you. And it's a great skill you're going to use in work someday. But I'm sure a lot of people listening, you might do that in a work meeting.
You know, the boss is talking. You can either ask the boss. Oh, cool. I remember how I learned how to just write that. Write it down, find some way that you can hold that and put it on a shelf.
So it's a skill built. They'll use their whole life. I just want to take a moment to tell you about an exciting opportunity that we're doing in 2024. You know, the past decade, Sara and I have had the privilege and the joy of getting to coach so many parents and changing their the way they discipline at home, moving away from fear based approaches. And over those years, we've got a lot of calls from fathers, dads who are like, man, I want to make the change, too. But I'm really struggling with with the not yelling, the anger. It's just, man, it just the reactions are so hard to change.
And so in 2024, I thought it would be great. I really wanted to invite fathers who are wanting to change those dynamics to do some one on one coaching with me. So if you're interested in that or if you know a dad who you think would be interested in that, love for you to reach out to me at Kyle Wester at ParentingLegacy.com.
That's Kyle Wester at ParentingLegacy.com. And I'd love to set up a time to talk with you to see if you would be a good fit for the program. OK, so if you're interested, reach out, have any questions, reach out and look forward to talking with you soon. So the second one is teach them how to interrupt you and then give them a specific amount of time when you'll get back with them. OK, like I know we've seen that a lot with our kids since I'm a talker. So there's times where, Sara, you're really good at that, where the kid wants our attention. And I'm really good about saying, hey, this is not the time. OK, I'm talking to your mom right now and I'm having a conversation.
But you can see that anxiety in them, right? And the anxiety sometimes is they don't know when I'm going to shut up. So they're like, but if dad is talking, he may go on forever and he may share a story. And that's oh my gosh, if I didn't hold you. And so well, and honestly, they're just tired that they'll just be standing there waiting and waiting and waiting. I know. And so you do a good job of we'll say, hey, give me a minute. Right. I'm going to once I'm done with this, then what? And if my story is still going, you might say, Kyle, she's been waiting for like two minutes. So and the reason why that's important, because you want the kid to trust you.
You want when you ask them to wait, they are not going to wait. If they don't trust, you're going to come back to them. And a lot of times parents make the mistake of telling the kid to wait and then you never come back. Yeah. So the kid's like, well, that didn't work. I know the kids like that method stinks, man. I'm going to make sure you hear me now. So if you if you can teach them how and even roleplay it, I find it's really fun.
Like act like you're on the phone. Kid wants your attention. You can do this with kids almost any ages. Let's roleplay this, you know, and then just I'm going to say wait and then I'm going to come back to you in a minute. My mom had this really great way because sometimes she didn't even want if she was talking with someone and her friend or somebody, it didn't matter, business, whatever it might be, we could just come up and kind of grab her hand or just touch her. And so she would kind of maybe touch us back or it was like this silent signal to say, I see you.
Give me a moment. I'll turn to you.
And she did. She was really good about getting to a pause in that conversation. Turn to us real quick, you know, address it and then turn back to the conversation she was in. Yeah. But we were you know, I felt very secure as a kid or something knowing, OK, this is our little I'm touching you. You know, I got your hand, you know, I'm here kind of thing. And it did. It brought down that energy of, you know, and to me, it might have been maybe not to a grown up, but as a child, it felt like this thing's going on outside and you need to know. And it might it might have been really important. It might have been something I can just wait five, you know, five minutes.
Let me finish this. But that way that connection could be made.
I love it. Number three is teach them the difference between an emergency and something that can wait. And this is another one that you can really play out. There's actually been only a few times I can think, you know, maybe a handful of times it's really been an emergency. Right. That we really need. Like that one time I set our backyard on fire by accident. It was a total accident. I promise. Yes. And that was an emergency because I needed you to help me put out the fire.
That's a story for another day. Our kids love to tell that story. That's right.
So but I was the hero. You did. It was amazing that you put out that fire. But but as the hose was all tied up, I couldn't get it done. But anyway, so teaching them and role playing with them because kids when they're little, they think everything's an emergency.
Well, it's urgent. Yeah. And we need to hold that that they could be jumping up and down at all because in their world it is an emergency. So just hold that and just say, OK, it's an emergency to them.
I don't want to minimize that. But I can also use it as a moment to say that felt like an emergency. Right. So, you know, and play it out with them. Wasn't an emergency and talk it out so they can start to learn those thinking skills. Wait, I thought this was an emergency.
Oh, oh, it actually wasn't. OK, that's it. And then they learn that by going through it with you, by talking it out. Yeah, that's great. And then the last one is I think this is probably number four, one of the most important. But make sure they're getting time each day when they can connect and share with you, such as a bedtime routine, when they know they will get the time they need. You know, I find with a lot of kids, Sara, just with our busy lives, our distracted lives, that kids going to their school all day, they've got activities going.
They're around the siblings all the time. Mom and dad have their conversations. They were just trying to watch a show at night and chill, whatever it might be. The kid doesn't get that time every day where they know it's I'm going to get to talk to mom about this or I'm going to get to connect with dad. I remember one of the most precious things for our kids growing up was that I got into the habit of waking up early and just with our oldest, Abby, be able to go and watch the sunrise with her. You know, and so there was times where you there was something I needed to connect with her on or you would like me to follow up with her that she knew when she woke up, I'd be outside watching the sunrise.
You know, so she'd come out and sit with me. And then we had these fantastic conversations and she got used to trusting that that if I need to talk to dad, I can talk in the morning. If I talk at night, mom's going to be there.
Put me in bed. Generally, my my connection time is at night in the morning. Yeah. And so those times we continue with all our kids that they know the morning time if you want to connect. So so just having those rhythms of where the kid can trust that, OK, I'm going to hold this until then. And that way, then they're not anxious of when's that time going to happen?
Because for some kids, Sara, it's not till the weekend. It's like something happened on a Monday or Tuesday and maybe they'll get the time. But then it's gone.
Like they don't remember. And also and so you'll be like, what is this kid's deal? This whole week, they just seem, you know, and it and it's probably because that need existed and didn't get met. So we have to realize that kids have, you know, I'm sure maybe there's a great book on this about the bucket. And we all kind of have this invisible bucket.
We need connection. Yeah. So you could say that we need attention. Yeah. So kids need it. So if you're thinking, why is my kid doing all these obnoxious things? They might actually just need connection. Maybe they have something to talk to you about.
Maybe they don't. Maybe they just need you to turn to them and have nothing else going on for 15 minutes.
And that can be really hard. And it feels like a big pressure as a parent, because sometimes you're thinking, I legitimately don't know where to find that time. But we need to, you know, move some things around. It needs to be seen as a high priority to make sure we're, you know, like you said, it's number four on the list, but should be. That's where we need to start. We need to start with, am I giving them some undivided, focused attention? I don't know why I put a number four now.
But just like start there. Yeah. Maybe they're just doing this because I'm not giving them some focused attention, not just my presence, but my attention.
Well, that's a bonus. Number five bonuses.
Switch it from my kid wants my attention to wants. So I think that really helps me a lot when I hear them doing that thing. I'm starting to get triggered, like, oh, they just want my connection. It's not like because I feel the other way.
I feel controlled. I feel like they're like demanding this. Like, I don't want to raise a kid who thinks every time they want me to pay attention, I'm going to do I got important things to do, man. Yeah. So just, oh, they just want my connection. So how am I getting that connection with them? Yeah. And we want to build that in because just a small thought by the time they're teenagers, some of them have just like, forget it. I actually don't want your connection anymore.
And we don't want to land in that place. Or, or Sara, they'll do behaviors that force your connection. Yes. Yeah. They'll do behaviors.
You can see different things happen. Yeah. So we want to just make that an automatic and it'll ebb and flow in life. But we want to be intentional about connection. Yeah. So I hope this episode was helpful to you. And once again, share this podcast to other parents. You think, I mean, it's the numbers are growing every day. Sara, it's awesome to see many, many more people finding the podcast, listening to it. And if you want extra help, I know we think we've done some other promos without the entire in this podcast is, you know, something Sara and I do is parent coaching, you know? And so we'd love reach out to us at my, my email address would be Kyle Wester at parenting legacy.com.
And we'd love to hear from you. So hope this was helpful. Hope you're having a great day and hope this really you start. We'd love to hear how this changes the dynamics with you and your family to move away from these, you know, kind of dance that we get into with our kids and that you'll see a shift happen very quickly.
Thank you for listening. We appreciate you. The Art of Raising Humans podcast should not be considered or used as counseling, but for educational purposes only. The Art of Raising Humans podcast should not be considered or used as counseling, but for educational purposes only.