Creative Child

Handling Clingy, Needy, Attention-Seeking Behaviors

by Rebecca Eanes

Is your child clingy? Do you worry that she’s “too attached?” Is his behavior attention-seeking? These are common behaviors that parents often find themselves grappling with. These parents are often told to ignore children when they appear to be seeking attention because it is a popular opinion that giving children the attention they seek will reward or reinforce negative behaviors. Relating to this advice, Dr. Gordon Neufeld of the Neufeld Institute says this: “What else is there to want? And if we see a child who wants attention, why wouldn’t we give it to them? Why wouldn’t we meet these basic needs of affection, attention, of mattering and significance?”

 

From a Positive Parenting standpoint, behavior is always communication. When children seek attention in negative ways, this is a cry for help. By ignoring the child, we are ignoring their plea. When children are clingy and needy and we ignore this need, we are rejecting them. If children are seeking attention and attachment, they are in need of attention and attachment, so we can at least begin to understand their behavior and formulate a response from this place rather than from an idea that they are needlessly seeking attention and should be ignored. Why does our thought pattern matter here? When we see a child as behaving badly to get attention, we feel justified in ignoring them. We harden. When we see a child as crying out for help, we feel moved to assist. We soften. The need is real no matter how they go about trying to get the need met.

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This doesn’t mean, of course, that you necessarily give in to demands or rearrange your plans. It simply means that you first seek to understand what is driving the behavior and secondly that you keep in mind that you aren’t trying to manage an inconvenience, in the words of Kittie Frantz, but you are raising a human being. This helps you focus on the person, not on the behavior. When you are focused on the person, you are now in a mindset to be able to effectively deal with the situation.

 

For example, if your child is clingy and doesn’t want you to go to dinner with your partner while she stays with a trusted caregiver, I’m not suggesting you cancel your plans. Rather, I’m suggesting that you empathize with her feelings as you set your boundary. So, instead of ignoring her cries or sneaking off when she’s occupied, you’d say, “I know you don’t want me to go. I see that you’re upset. I’ll be back soon and we’ll have lots of cuddles then.” Make sure to follow through with the extra cuddles! Surrounding the time you must be away from her, you can help “fill her cup” by giving her extra attention and affection. This could be setting aside time for a “date” for the two of you, reading together, or playing. When you provide more than she is asking for, she will begin to feel at ease emotionally. She will feel assured that she matters to you, and this will allow emotional rest.

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When children are exhibiting troubling behavior that appears to be attention-seeking, you can set a limit on that behavior while still providing the attention and love needed by following the 3 steps to positive discipline discussed in full detail here.

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