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Are Your Kids Demanding Your Attention?

The past few weeks have brought about drastic changes for most people. This is a confusing moment for adults and likely even more confusing for our kids. No matter how old a person is, everyone’s schedules, routines, interactions, and responsibilities have changed considerably due to COVID-19. I’ve heard from several parents recently, and they’ve all experienced new behaviors from their children, most of which revolve around neediness and attention-seeking.

All of this is can be quite a surprise to parents, who have expressed that they are spending far more time with their kids than before COVID-19. Most families have been exclusively seeing one another for a few weeks now. This article will look at this new surge of attention-seeking behaviors from a behavioral perspective and hopefully shine some light on the subject!

A Bit of Background

Attention-seeking behavior can occur for many reasons, including:

  • An individual simply wants attention

  • An individual is not getting the specific attention they are used or that they need

  • An individual is feeling strong emotions they cannot process and work though independently

  • An individual is experiencing drastic environmental changes

It’s safe to say that most people, including our children, are feeling an intense range of emotions due to the onset of COVID-19. Unfortunately, it is significantly harder for our children to work through and process all these feelings. Attention-seeking behavior typically arises when a person cannot work through their emotions, especially anxiety, sadness, and uncertainty.

Regardless of why a person begins to display attention-seeking behavior, there are a few specific strategies that you can use to remedy this challenging behavior. The first and most effective strategy is facilitating directed conversations with your children. The next strategy is to develop a visual schedule. I have included more in-depth links to both strategies for parents interested in diving deeper into the material.

A parent likely witnesses attention-seeking behavior often. A child feels sad and, as a result, comes to the parent for support; coming to the parent is attention-seeking behavior. Typically, a parent can easily address their child’s feelings and work through it, which means the need for attention goes away.

Here’s the usual flow for attention-seeking behavior:

However, Coronavirus has likely brought our children into a much more complex emotional state. Parents cannot identify and address their child’s feelings as easily. When feelings linger, the need for attention will remain and often worsen.

Here's an example of the new Coronavirus flow:

To remedy our children’s attention-seeking behaviors, we need to identify what they are feeling and why. You’ll know if you’ve had an effective conversation if you can complete the statement, “My child feels ______ because ______.” For example, “my child feels sad because they miss their friends.” If your child is dealing with many emotions, narrow the list down to three. Once you know what they are feeling and why, you can address the issue, help your child work through their emotions, and their attention-seeking behavior should lessen. Example Conversation Starters (pdf)

Parents will need to check in with their children following the initial conversation; complex emotions can require more attention and conversation. The more you talk to your kids about their specific feelings, the quicker they will feel better and their behavior will return to normal. Developing a Visual Schedule (pdf)

Developing a visual schedule is the second strategy when curbing attention-seeking behavior. Visual schedules are so effective because attention seeking often stems from a person feeling anxious, confused, and/or stressed out. Verbal processing and the conceptualization of time can be tricky for children, especially when dealing with drastic environmental changes and unprecedented emotions. Providing a child with a visual representation of their day is a simple way to ease these uncertain feelings.

A visual schedule is something your child has been used to since preschool. Even if students can’t read, teachers find ways to visually explain the plan for the day. Providing children with a visual schedule is a simple, quick way to ease anxiety and stress, and help kids feel more in control of their feelings. When a child can self-manage their emotions and work through them, their need for attention will decrease.

Typically, a teacher will put a schedule on the whiteboard or somewhere easily seen by the entire class. The schedule will list the activities for the day in order, possibly including the time. As the class moves through the school day, the teacher will often cover up part of the schedule or erase the completed activity to help visually show their class where they are in the day.

Here are two examples of visual schedules used at school:

Again, most children have been exposed to visual schedules since preschool. Worldwide disaster notwithstanding, losing this aspect of a person’s weekday routine will negatively impact anyone. Getting a visual schedule in a place like what your child uses at school will help mitigate anxiety and stress, support the child in self-management / working through their emotions, and ultimately alleviate attention-seeking behavior.

Just like having a facilitated conversation with your child, consistency and follow-through is vital for this strategy to have an impact. Try to develop a schedule you as a parent can stick to, and that your child understands and can self-manage. Click here to view visual schedule examples.

Facilitating conversations and creating visual schedules will help this new surge of attention-seeking behaviors that parents see in their children. It is important to follow through with your directed conversations until you see the behavior lessen and to be as consistent as possible when using a visual schedule.

In addition to these strategies, download our free Social Story to help explain COVID-19 to your kiddos.

We hope everyone remains healthy and safe during this time. Please let us know if you have any specific questions you’d like us to answer!


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