Does your child show increasing negative attention seeking behaviours? Do you feel that you are going round in circles trying to create balanced relationships but seem to be constantly back at square one?
I l know this can happen in my family, and I hear this a lot from the families I work with as a child and family therapist. So I have put together a few of my top tips for building connections, and reducing unwanted behaviours.
When we thinking about ways to stop our children arguing, or trying to get them to comply with our requests. We can get stuck in a rut, and often end up increasing unwanted behaviours instead of reducing them. This is often because we unintentionally get in to a
power battle, and do not always consider the deeper meanings of the behaviour being displayed (by both our child and ourselves). There is ALWAYS an UNMET NEED BENEATH THE BEHAVIOUR. Therefore, I want to offer an alternative set of startegies, which are based around nurturing belonging within the family unit, and building positive connections.
Tips to help children feel they BELONG:
Give your child a small job around the house that no one else can do (things like setting the table, tidying the sofa cushions, putting away the shoes on the shelf). Then be sure to make comments about how good your child is at their job and that no one else can do this as well as they can. If someone else offers to do the job, make sure to repeatedly say that it is your child's job and it's their job and important role in the family.
When your child goes to school or are away from you, tell them you miss them. Everyone wants to hear that they are missed and thought about. When you are reconnected at pick up time, make sure you say something like "I really missed you today, and been looking forward to seeing you and giving you a hug".
Give them a small item of yours or a small photograph of yourself to take with them when you are apart. This can be a photo on a key ring, or a bracelet, or even a squirt of your perfume or aftershave. Tell them that you are giving them this because you miss them when you're apart, and you hope that they will find a moment to think about you while you're apart. This shows them how you keep connection when you're apart. You can reciprocate this with something of theirs for you if your child wants to (ie you have a photo of them you carry with you).
Put small notes in your child's lunchbox, pocket, inside their shoe - be creative! This reminds them that you think about them and care about them. The notes can be as simple as saying "see you at pick up at 3.15" or "remember we are playing together with the train track when we get home from school today". These notes show our child we are not too busy to think about them.
Show happiness when you see them, especially when at times like school pick up (even if your have to be an actor for a while until it feels genuine). Be present, open your arms for a hug or crouch down to their level. Even if they reject you (ie by dismissing you comments or running past you to see their friend), always make efforts to tell them and show them you are pleased to see them. Pitch this to their needs, dont be over the top and gushing if you can see this embarrasses them.
Ask them to help you with a special job - like carrying in the shopping with you, or chopping up fruit at snack time. Thank them for helping and for being kind. Use words of traits you want to nurture and be sure to voice them, ie "thank you for helping me carry in the shopping, it was so kind of you to stop playing to help me, you're so thoughtful and loving to me, and such a great listener". You will need to pitch how much praise your child can handle, these comments don't have to be gushing, and they don't have to respond, but trust me - they will hear you and it will build their self esteem even if they reject your comments. If you have more than one child - use different jobs and different coaching comments for each child, this helps with reducing sibling conflict and rivalry.
By doing these things regularly, your child will begin to BELIEVE that:
They are good at something
They are needed
They are missed
They are valued
They are thought about
They have a purpose
You want to spend time with them
They are accepted.
Then they will BEHAVE in a way that seeks comfort rather than rejection:
Less negative attention seeking (ie whining, ignoring requests, refusal, stalling etc)
Less acting out and hurting others
Less tantrum behaviour (shouting etc)
More empathy and care for others
More household harmony!
The above suggestions work when we keep in mind that we are building our connection and relationship, through repeated experience of communicating to your child that they are loved, and their importance to us rather than how important we are to them. This is not about using shame or demanding they help out around the house as a chore. We should not threaten to take away special jobs or use shaming comments when they display rejection to us. This is about modelling their importance in the family, and nurturing their feelings of belonging.
A huge thank you to Sarah Dillon, founding member of NATP, who inspired me to write this post after reading her work which supports foster carers and adopters. To read more about Therapeutic Parenting and the work of NATP, you can visit their website https://www.naotp.com/
If you want to know more about the above startegies or learn more about building meaningful connections with your child. Then please contact me to book a consultation session. Further information about charges and booking is on my website www.pebble.family or you can
email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
As a working parent, and human being trying to let go of perfectionism - my written work may not always be error free or 100% proof read. If you notice mistakes or errors in my work, please understand that this is me showing authenticity and simply hoping that the gist of the post is useful. It's more important to me to show up, as my authentic self, rather than say nothing while I perfect the post!. Thanks for your understanding and kindness.