Unfortunately, connection is often confused with attention. We have heard many parents and teachers say, “Ignore him, he just wants attention.” Remember, ALL behavior is a form of communication! If a child is communicating to us, then ignoring the communication will not improve the problem. Most children with attention-seeking behaviors will just communicate even louder when ignored.
We also know that getting too much attention is no more helpful than ignoring attention-seeking behaviors. Look at celebrities; they receive enormous amounts of attention and many of their lives are a mess. The solution can only come when we meet the underlying need for connection.
Attention is a call for help. It is an effort to draw others attention to a missing skill, thing of quality. Calling for attention is something we do when we fall overboard on a ship. We make as much noise as possible in hopes that we are seen, our need is realized and someone tosses us a lifeline! Calling for attention says, “Something within me is missing,” and the missing need is often related to connection and the beneficial joy juice (hormones and neurochemicals) that comes with it.
Connection is a form of responsive attunement. It is a gift we give when we relinquish our self-centered view of the world in order to participate fully with another person. When we connect, we let go of our judgments about how others should be, release our biases of how things should go, stop listening to the false messages chattering in our heads and become present. In these moments of connection, all is well.
Children require authentic connection (with eye contact, touch, presence, and playfulness) for growth and development. Children who seek attention are defending against connection. They may have experienced something early in life that taught them that the vulnerability of connection generates pain and/or loss. So, they trade in or forgo connection and settle for whatever bits of positive or negative attention they could get. In doing so, they also miss out on feel-good, brain-building “joy juice.” Many parents and educators have unknowingly compounded this problem by further trading the joy juice of connection and replacing it with the “stuff” of tangible rewards.