'She’s just doing that for attention'

Great thinkers and writers often skillfully use play-on-words to communicate and drive home their philosophy and ideas. We love to remember these examples when faced with negativity:

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” - Winston Churchill

“We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated.” - Maya Angelou

In a recent article, Tamar Jacobson, a nationally-known early childhood development and education consultant, uses a similar device to drive home an important point about child behavior. In it, Dr. Jacobson rightfully challenges the notion that a child’s need and desire for attention is negative. She replaces the need for ‘attention’ with a need for ‘relationship.’

“If we know anything about child development, it is that very young children actually actively need our attention. As I wrote in my book: ‘Brain development research shows us that in order to feel attached and worthwhile, children need our love, touch, and full-on attention to survive. They could die without it – indeed, some do.'" – A child’s bad behavior isn’t ‘attention-seeking.’ She’s seeking a relationship, Tamar Jacobson, NBC News, June 9, 2019.

It is not uncommon to hear phrases like ‘she’s just doing that for attention, just ignore her’ or ‘he just needs so much attention’. But replace ‘attention’ with words like relationship, support, connection, help, or care (all synonyms for attention), you gain a whole new perspective on a child’s behavior.

A parent’s unconditional love is the foundation of their child’s self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth. To a child, their parents are everything. They crave their parents’ positive attention even more than they crave candy or a toy – it makes them feel happy and good inside, and they can’t get enough of it. So can we really fault our children when all they want is a caring or loving response from us?

As Martha Heineman Pieper and William J. Pieper describe in their book, Smart Love, “Starting sometime around your child’s first birthday, your child’s involvement with you will begin to deepen significantly. Increasingly, he makes clear that he cannot get enough of you. He wants to show you every speck of dust he lifts carefully from the floor, have you comment admiringly on each repetition of a hundred similar physical feats, and have you read to him every book on his bookshelf. This passionate wish for direct involvement with you is actually a sign of his maturity. Your child now recognizes the superiority of the happiness he feels when you are caring for him.”*

For too long, approaches designed to help children grow into independent adults have been prescribed to parents but instead of nurturing happy and independent adults, these approaches disrupt the relationship between parents and their children and in turn can damage a child’s self-esteem. This is when we tend to see children ‘act-out’ or communicate the