attention-seeking behaviours in children
Share the story

    As much as you want to cherish sweet moments with each of your children, once the morning alarm goes off, your hectic day begins. Rushing through the morning routine until your kids walk out the door and you head off for work doesn’t leave much room for meaningful conversation with your little ones. After surviving another day of work only to come back to a pile of chores—and then prepping dinner, you might wish you could have just a few minutes of warm cuddles and hear about your child’s day. 

    Unfortunately, in the real world, this is about when one of your little ones smacks one of his siblings across the head and blows a raspberry as he runs away, refusing to put on his pajamas, and then refusing to brush his teeth.

    Why on earth can’t your kids just follow the evening routine smoothly, so you can all have more cuddle time at the end of the day?

    When a child wants more one-on-one time, he or she might act out or try to get in your hair. Your children know they won’t get positive attention by being naughty, but sometimes a child would rather have that negative attention than no attention at all. 

    Attention-seeking behaviour can be a signal that it is time for parents to put in more quality time with their child, and express their respect and approval toward her or him. To do that, try not to focus on lecturing your child about their actions in any emotional way, but redirect your child away from wrong behaviour to more positive and proper responses next time.

    But how do you spot attention-seeking behaviour early enough to redirect your child, before the behaviour escalates? Below is a list of attention-seeking behaviours to watch for. If you happen to observe some of these behaviours with your little one, check out the tips and advice that follow, to redirect your child towards more positive ways of expressing his needs.

    What are the attention-seeking behaviours of children?

    1. Asking a question to which they already know the answer

    When your child starts asking questions that she already knows the answer to, it can be a sign that she’s craving attention, especially if she’s already passed that charming “why?” stage. You know the one—that period when your little toddler says, “why” no matter what you say—but that is not what we are talking about here. Rather, it’s when your child starts blurting out questions for which he or she already knows the answer, just to make you talk to them about something—regardless of how redundant or unnecessary the subject might be.

    2. Goofing around by making silly sounds and faces 

    One of the behaviours that most people, parents included, will likely find annoying, is when your child starts parroting everything others say, or making silly blabbering sounds to distract others’ conversation. There are many ways your child might get cheeky to grab attention—from faking a cough or gagging, to forcing out farts—no matter how unpleasant the consequences might likely be.

    3. Whining and refusing to follow the usual routine

    Your child refusing, out of the blue, to follow a daily routine that he used to do without a problem—such as brushing his teeth or changing into pyjamas—can be a sign that your child is seeking attention.

    4. Bothering siblings

    If your child proudly smacks his sibling or pokes her with a toy, for no apparent reason, chances are good that it is related to attention-seeking motives.

    5. Playful physical attacks toward parents or interrupting a conversation

    If your child comes to you and starts to poke or tap your arm, refuses to stop when you asked, or butts into your conversation with someone else, it is a likely indicator that your little one craves attention.

    6. Consistent bad habits

    Your child might exhibit habits that make you cringe, like picking his nose, rocking her body, or forcing a burp in order to seek attention.

    There might be other reasons why your child forms bad habits like these, such as anxiety or boredom, so be observant for clues in order to eliminate other possibilities.

    How should you deal with your child’s attention-seeking behaviours?

    1. Look for the root cause of your child’s attention-seeking behaviours

    Children might seek attention for something as mundane as boredom or loneliness, or it could be out of a need to feel they belong and are approved, out of feelings of powerlessness and a lack of control, or when their feelings are hurt. It is important for you to identify the cause of your child’s attention-seeking behaviours, and strive to provide whatever your child feels is lacking in their relationship with you.

    2. Do not reward bad behaviour—not even with negative attention

    When your child acts out, you might be tempted to engage them by scolding, in an effort to stop the bad behaviour, but by doing so you are actually rewarding your child with what he or she is looking for—your attention. Resist the temptation to engage your child beyond simply stating a positive alternative action, to redirect bad behaviour. But once the storm passes, take a moment to have a deeper conversation, and try to build a closer relationship with your child.

    3. Don’t show your anger, but redirect your child’s behaviour for next time

    Even though your child’s behaviour can be irritating, do not express anger or try to engage with your child to teach a lesson. Instead, maintain a neutral temper and ask why they did what they did, and suggest a better way to deal with the situation next time. 

    For example, if your child pokes your arm repeatedly while you are on the phone, guide him to his room and gesture that you will see him when your conversation is ended. Once you have finished the conversation, go back to his room and ask why he did it. If he gives you an excuse—that he had something to tell you, or wanted to show you something, for example—then tell him that next time you are on the phone, he can either wait until the phone call is over, or he can write a note and hand it to you.

    4. Have quality one—on—one time to fulfill your child’s needs for interaction

    Once you have found the cause of your child’s attention-seeking behaviours, try to fill that void your child is feeling. Spend some one-on-one time together and ask about their new interests, and any struggles or challenges they might be facing. 

    5. Give your child enough affirmation and a sense of belonging

    If your child feels unappreciated as a member of the family or does not feel a sense of belonging, they can display negative attention-seeking behaviour. Try to give them charge of something around the house, and boost their feelings of importance with words of affirmation. Make quality time a priority, to enrich your relationship with your child.

    6. Avoid reacting to bad habits, but praise them when they stop

    However much you might want to stop the bad habits of your child by scolding or giving consequences, experts advise that it is better to ignore it, and allow time for your child to outgrow the behaviour rather than scolding. As long as there is no health risk or any danger to your child or others, the best you can do is just close your eyes and let it pass. Since your child is using bad habits to gather attention, do not reinforce the behaviour by giving them what they are seeking at that moment. Instead, praise them when they stop or abstain from bad habits, and reward them with attention at that time by engaging with them.


    Children seek attention when they feel a lack of control or want to gain power, sense disapproval or their feelings are hurt. Although their attention-seeking behaviours can be annoying and hard to tolerate, do not give in by trying to correct them. Instead, find out the reasons why your child is acting out and redirect their wrong behaviour. Fulfilling their emotional needs with one-on-one time and affirmation is the best way to reduce attention-seeking behaviour.

    You might also be interested in reading:

    Scroll to Top