Monday, February 14, 2011


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Dear Mr. Morton- Our nephew is always trying to get attention. When his mother (my sister) is on the phone he tugs at her pants. When we have family get-togethers, he’s always at the center of attention. I know children seek attention, but when is too much, too much?- R.T., Sandusky Co.

Dear R.T
.- True, the desire for attention is universal in younger children- practically all children seek attention at one time or another. However, if a child is “locked into” an attention-seeking mode, the parents should investigate what purpose or goal may be propelling the drive for “undue” attention. All behavior is purposeful and your nephew’s actions usually point toward and achieve something for him.

Many children who constantly seek undue attention are somewhat discouraged, in that they don’t feel they can contribute to the family in useful ways. One family I counseled demonstrates this widespread phenomenon. Their child sought attention in productive ways before the transgression arose and they discovered that they had overlooked much of his praiseworthy behavior.

These hard-working, dual income, and loving parents concluded that their child purposefully became a nuisance. He intentionally pestered everyone to become the center of attention- his goal was to be noticed, albeit in useless ways. Their son was hell bent on obtaining significance in the family via useless bids for attention.

Paradoxically, the parents were unintentionally reinforcing the very behaviors they wished to terminate by nagging, scolding, grounding, lecturing, reprimanding and occasionally spanking. Unfortunately, to many children, negative attention is better than no attention at all. Excellent video (below) on these "undue" behaviors of attention-seeking:

The whining and pestering behaviors withered away after the energy driving them was uncovered. They recognized he needed an audience, so they ignored the annoying behaviors and “caught him being good”-praising behaviors that respected the rights of others and maintained the family order.

When their child found he could achieve significance through helpful family contributions rather than with useless bids for attention…the misbehavior ceased.

Robert Morton, M.Ed., Ed.S. has retired from his positions as School Psychologist and adjunct professor in The School Of Leadership And Policy Studies at Bowling Green State University. Questions? Comments? Personal stories, articles or photos you'd like to share? Contact him at the secure Bpath Mail Form. View the national Family Journal column.