I came across a scene yesterday in the mall which many would find very common, a young boy of 3 was demanding quite vocally a new car from his parent and the parents were politely directing his attention towards other things. Haven’t we seen a similar situation or faced it ourselves and don’t we usually attribute this behavior as the child wanting or seeking 'attention'. Aren’t we often told “Just ignore”, “Let him/her cry it out”, “Let’s get something else” or the older ones are just “acting out”.
What if the child is seeking a relationship not attention? This idea has been studied and discussed by Tamar Jacobson, who in his studies showed how young children naturally need our attention for their development. Brain development research shows us that in order to feel attached and worthwhile, children need our love, touch and full-on attention to survive and thrive. We know that young children who need attention don’t necessarily act in ways that adults expect from older children and adults. When we replace the idea of children seeking attention with children wanting a relationship, we begin to talk differently about how, as adults, to react. For example, in relationship, we don’t ignore a person’s cry out for us; we become more present, listening and observing patiently.
We adults too often behave as if we do not want children to disrupt our routine, implicitly telling them that we have much more important issues to deal with right now. For teachers, having attention-seeking children disrupting our classrooms is about perceptions of our performance as educators; for parents, there are a million reasons to feel guilty about how we are judged when our children do not abide by rules.
What We Can Try