Most adults have been privy to a situation where they look at a child and think “man, what is that kid trying to prove?” It’s not something, as adults, that is easy to admit. We feel that we need to be bigger than that. We need to exhibit some sense of emotional maturity and take it for what it is: “that’s just a kid being a kid.” The fact is, though, that we are adults. Human adults. It is not above us to question a person’s, even a child’s, purpose for acting the way they are and judging it in a negative way. Most adults will look at the usual attention seeking behavior in children as “normal.” And, usually it is normal. Kids and young adults are still growing and maturing. They are not yet emotionally, mentally or physically developed. There are growing pains. Many children are still trying to “find themselves” and in doing so fumble and trip through certain situations. However, what is the normal process to maturity and what is possibly a long-term problem?
Examples of Attention Seeking Behavior in Children
- Children who play with their food because they know it will illicit attention from a parent or a caregiver
- Being the class clown
- Being an over-helper. Some children just can’t do enough for you
- The over-crier, because they know mom or dad will come to the rescue
- Children who need assistance with everything even though you know that they can accomplish the task
- Kids who won’t leave the side of their parent or caregiver
Most of the time the behaviors above will be socially acceptable. Even though as an adult you might inwardly (or outwardly) purse your lips and shake your head. Sure, being the class clown can disrupt a class and throwing a temper tantrum in the local grocery store may illicit reactions from others but those things are just part of growing up, right? When does attention seeking become more than that, though? Let’s first take a closer look at what this kind of behavior really is.
Where Attention Seeking Behaviors Stem From
Human beings are social creatures. We thrive in groups and social settings. We tend to do worse and not develop fully, or reach our full potential, when we are removed from that sort of environment. This is one reason why “solitary confinement” is so effective in prisons. That doesn’t mean that every child will “thrive” in social settings. Although we are social animals some people are naturally more comfortable alone. While some may flourish in teams, others may not enjoy it or be as natural in those settings.
The Social Interaction Between Child and Parent Is Crucial to Development
In one study, it was found that many parents spend less than 7 minutes per day with their children. That’s an issue. Sure, people are busy. Life is fast. Work has to be done. Chores need to be done. Exercise needs to be accomplished. Then, when you get home all you want to do is relax a little bit. However, it’s surprising that even some stay at home parents will not get 7 minutes of quiet, one-on-one time with their children.
Humans need this type of interaction naturally. They require it to validate their worth. Emotionally mature people don’t seek this out; however children are not emotionally mature people. Emotionally immature people will feel insecure and have low levels of self-esteem and confidence. So, to counter this emotional gap and a need for attention, children will construct circumstances and situations in life where they will have to be the center of attention.
Different Types of Attention Seekers
There are several types of attention seekers:
- The Suffering One: Faking illness, lying about the death of a loved one. Perhaps even causing injury to themselves.
- The Saving One: A person will seek attention by intentionally causing harm to another and then “save” the person from the situation in hopes of garnering thanks and acclaim.
- The Organized One: This person puts themselves in a situation where they are in charge and the “go to person” to bask in the glory of their greatness as shown by others.
- The Manipulator: The child who acts the victim to one parent in order to be coddled and protected by the other.
- The Dramatic One: No matter how small the situation or incident, the drama queen will exaggerate and blow it out of proportion to get attention.
- The Way to a Busy Person: This attention seeker retells every aspect of their busy life, even going so far as to make activities and responsibilities up. People just can’t believe that this person can get everything done.
- The Pretender: Faking being a victim by bursting into tears at the smallest of situations.
- The Abused One: Pretending to be the victim of physical, sexual, mental or emotional abuse can get a lot of attention from authorities and loved ones.
- The Victim (Online and Real Life): This person either uses online chat rooms and social media feeds or real life social situations to create acts of harassment against themselves.
Histrionic Personality Disorder
If there is a long history of attention seeking behavior in children then they may have histrionic personality disorder. Remember, we are not talking about the child who throws temper tantrums or is the class clown and then grows out of it. We are talking about an elongated history of situations where the child must be the center of attention in any group: other children, adults, doctor’s office, etc.
A common example of this disorder in adults is the partner that often says “I should just kill myself.” This is a classic example of histrionic personality disorder and it is not a healthy way of living. While histrionic personality disorder is more common in adults, children who have exhibited attention seeking behavior can still be diagnosed with it.
People who have histrionic personality disorder may have trouble achieving intimacy with loved ones (sexually and emotionally), trouble forming relationships, become bored with the usual routine (kids who write on the wall) and, yes, exhibit bullying behavior.
Why Bullies Are Attention Seekers
Attention seekers often exploit the hurt and suffering of others in an attempt to gain attention for themselves. What more effective way of doing this, in a bullies’ eyes, than by causing that suffering. Bullies can cause torment and harass those that need help. And then they would offer and be that help. In most cases, though, the bully relies on the outsiders’ attention. He or she causes a scene in a school hallway-or online-and gets laughs, comments and “likes.” Even if the bully is caught and reprimanded (by authority figures or peers), they are still being appeased with attention. With attention seekers, the attention can be positive or negative. And herein is where a nasty cycle can begin. The bully that becomes the center of negative attention can then exhibit other types of attention seeking behavior such as being the “victim” or the “drama queen.”
As a parent, when you begin to address the attention seeking behavior that your child may be exhibiting (whether a bully or not), ask yourself first: what may be some of the causes that led to the attention seeking behavior? Does your child require further attention from you?