When you become a parent, one of the first lessons you learn within the first year or two of your child’s life, is not to inadvertently give your child the attention for things that don’t deserve it. For example: once your child is mobile and on the go, you instinctively want to ease every bump or bruise your child gets when learning to walk. And let’s say your child does trip or fall. Instinctively they cry, and you come running. Once your child figures out that every time they cry and you come running, they will then begin to experiment with other things to get your attention; like dumping their food on the floor, just to see if you’ll pick it up. Dropping the “F” bomb, or, singing and talking to themselves during naptime, just to see if you will come in and tell them to “be quiet and go to sleep.”
So the point that I’m trying to get at is, what deserves your attention, and what does not? It sounds easier than it seems right? Wrong! Attention seeking behavior comes in all shapes and sizes but it’s up to you to determine where to draw the line.
When I first started out as a BT (behavioral therapist) a hundred years ago, I learned fairly quickly what was acceptable and what was unacceptable behavior. Or as we call it now, “expected and unexpected behavior.” My students constantly tried to test me to see what they could and could not get away with. I remember I once had a student who was in a wheelchair, and he would use his beautiful bright smile to get away with murder, so to speak. And because I was so new with the position, he most likely got away with more than he should have (palm to forehead).
So, how do you choose your battles? It’s easy. Independence is the key to life, so when teaching your child to do things for themselves, we want them to learn as quickly and as independently as they can. Of course we help them here and there along the way, but giving attention where it is not needed only makes the situation harder to deal with.
My son used to fake his way through every meal. He would gag, wretch, cry, and sometimes vomit if he didn’t want to eat what I put in front of him. And of course I didn’t want to see my baby so upset over eating, so I would remove his food and give him what he wanted, just make them happy.
Cardinal rule #1 broken! Oy!!
I gave attention to attention seeking behavior. And of course the situation escalated. This went on for quite a while and my son used this as a vice for other things as well. In his eyes, if you screamed loud enough and long enough, he would win. I used to beat myself up over this for two reasons. 1. We were living in an apartment building and the whole building could hear my son crying, and I felt badly that they could hear it, so I caved. 2. The BT in me would scold me daily for giving in. I was so upset with myself.
In the end, and a few noise complaints later, it took some time but I got my son to eat. I got him to eat without crying or vomiting, or screaming and crying. And I was also able to squash other fake behaviors as well. If he was doing something that required help, I would tell him to try it himself first. I would watch him to make sure that he really did try. If he still needed my help, then I would step in. I always reinforced him with a hug or a kiss and a “nice job! You did it!”
Having a learning disability does throw a wrench in attention seeking behavior. My son lives in a constant world of frustration. He lives in a world that does not bend the way that he would like it to, and it’s also filled with noise and other sensory related things to throw him off. Does he still have trouble navigating his way around? ABSOLUTELY! Does he still seek out attention seeking behavior? OF COURSE! Does he still test the waters to see what he can and cannot get away with? YOU BET! But do I given? NO WAY!
I’ve told my son on more than one occasion that I am in charge. I am mommy, and mommies are the bosses! Not the kids! He seemes to understand and appreciate that statement. So a gentle reminder every now and then goes a long long way with him. His daddy and I know him better than anyone else in this world, and if you “cry wolf” one too many times, people start to not pay attention.
So the moral of the story is, constantly reinforce your child with positive feedback when you see them doing something right or good. Positive reinforcement is the key to just about anything your child does. When your child hears that you’re proud of them, or, nice job, etc. it can make a world of a difference. It makes them want to strive for more. Negative reinforcement can go either way, but most likely it will turn into attention seeking behavior, and nipping that one in the bud it’s never easy. Try not to cave in. I know it’s hard and you’re probably exhausted, but try as hard as you can to remain positive. Know that I’m rooting for you and will always be here for you. ❤️