attention seeking behaviour in children

The comment of “oh it’s just attention seeking behaviour” is too often said in response to parents asking about their child’s behaviour. It’s often referred to as something negative, an annoyance to parents, has no purpose, or is part of manipulation of the parent on the child’s behalf.

What is Attention Seeking Behaviour

As the name suggests it is a behaviour that is exhibited by a child to get the attention of a parent / primary care giver or carer. There can be lots of reasons why a child is seeking the attention of a parent. The first one that comes to mind (and that I hear frequently in my practice) is when a sibling arrives. The eldest child no longer has the undivided attention of their parent. However there are others:

  • The child is seeking a need to be met – hunger, thirst, sleep, love, connection, interaction, stimulation etc..
  • Excessive time away from parent / care-giver
  • Parent spending time talking to another adult / running errands / watching TV
  • Caregiver excessively on smart phone / computer
  • Feeling ignored from the presence of a sibling
  • A lack of quality time with a parent

Attention seeking behaviour is not necessarily a negative thing. Our children are dependent upon us, particularly young children. As they grow they continue to need parental involvement and guidance just at a different level. If a child feels that there is distance between themselves and their parent they will demonstrate a behaviour to regain that connection and ultimately the feeling of love and belonging with their parent or primary care giver.

What’s The Difference Between Positive And Negative Attention Seeking Behaviour

As ultimately the majority of children’s behaviour can be classed as attention seeking – crying in newborns, calling out to mum and dads in toddlers, tantrums, screaming, asking of help, it’s important to distinguish between positive and negative attention seeking behaviour.

Positive attention seeking behaviour refers to physical actions or words that are demonstrated by a child in a positive manner to seek the attention, support, love or security of a parent / primary care-giver or carer. For example asking for help, coming for a hug or cuddle, asking permission to do something or get something etc…

On the other hand negative attention seeking behaviour refers to the negative actions or words that children do to get the same attention. This is what is frequently frustrates parents. It includes the tantrums, hitting, bitting, yelling at parents, and acting up. Tantrums are not always attention seeking behaviour and instead can be a simple process of emotional release. The same with hitting and bitting. It can be part of normal childhood behaviour as children learn to develop their social skills.

Positive attention seeking behaviour is a good thing for children because it demonstrates that they feel comfortable and secure in seeking an enhanced connection with their parent / caregiver when they need it. However negative attention seeking behaviour means that a child is not getting his or her needs met.

So how do we change negative attention seeking behaviour?

Here are my 3 steps to reducing attention seeking behaviour:

1. Praise Positive Behaviour

In order to change behaviour we must focus on what we WANT from our child, and how we want them to act, not what we don’t want. For every time you focus on a negative behaviour, give your child praise for 6 instances of positive behaviour.

We all know that negative words / comments stick out in our perception of our history more than the positive, we all remember the bad more than the good. It’s the same with children. So praise, praise praise to keep the balance in the positive and not in the negative.

2. Give Your Child Your Attention

Schedule in positive, quality time with your children. If your child gets as much time as possible with you then they won’t have to act out to seek out your attention. Life can be very busy these days, especially when you have more than one child. That’s why it is crucial that you schedule the time in, commit to spending that time and then actually do it!

3. Stop And Focus On Your Child

When your child is acting out, correct the negative behaviour and then spend time with your child. Stop what you’re doing and give your child a hug, listen to the story they want to tell you, put down your phone, or stop doing the housework and give your child your attention. It’s not giving in, you still tell your child that their behaviour wasn’t acceptable but you fulfil your child’s needs – and that’s what being a parent is all about!

4. Teach Your Child To Ask For You

Negative attention seeking behaviour happens because our children don’t know how to get our attention in a positive way. Every time that you correct a behaviour teach your child how to ask to spend time with you: “Don’t hit mummy, that’s not good behaviour. If you want to talk to me say mummy can you talk to me?” Or something similar.

Your child will always need you and your attention and your involvement in their lives.Children all go through phases of needing their parents involvement in their lives at different levels. The key to managing behaviour is helping guide your child communicate their need for your attention in a positive manner and not in a negative way.


Stop focusing on attention seeking behaviour as a negative part of parenting. It’s something that happens in every family, with every child. All you have to do is learn to manage it and view it as a way to help your child grow and develop.

If you’re struggling with implementing the above steps then get in contact with me. Send me an email at or comment below with your questions. Let’s keep the conversation going.

And remember that the Happy Mum = Happy Kids Facebook Group is here to support you as well. I’d love to have you in there.





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.