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Too Much Attention -- As Bad as Too Little

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Proud, happy parents enjoy their children and do not mean to harm them yet too much attention can do just that.

In these days of smaller and smaller families, it is quite easy to go overboard on attention. The problems are not apparent in the beginning but within a few years, an attention-addicted child is a serious problem.

When many children are suffering from neglect, it seems strange to imply that too much attention can be a problem. For children, too much attention can produce many of the same behaviors seen in attention-starved youngsters. Both extremes produce demanding, insecure children. The neglected child is never sure of love since he has never experienced it. The attention-addicted child is insecure due to a fear that the attention will stop.

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Attention Addicted

If a child is always the center of attention and adult needs and rights are totally ignored, the child will become attention-addicted. There will never be enough. When this happens, parents become frustrated and angry with the child and the attention continues, but in negative ways. To a child, attention is attention, regardless of it's character.

Masters of Manipulation

When parents try to do other things, the attention addicted child will develop very manipulative behaviors to maintain the interaction. Some children became extremely demanding and aggressive, others become passive and helpless. They do whatever works for them. In the end, the child is truly dependent and unhappy since there is never enough attention to satisfy the child.

There are basically two ways this happens:

  1. Every parent thinks their child is adorable and wonderful, but some parents gain personal satisfaction by showing everybody else their family star.

    If a child is displayed at every opportunity and urged to perform, the problems can begin. The performance may be evidence of precocious behavior or learned tricks. A child who learns to exist in the spotlight will have a difficult time when the spotlight is turned off. The greatest problem will be in sharing the spotlight with the next sibling.

    Children do not need to be dressed like little dolls and adored. They need to loved and given the opportunity to be part of the family, not the star of the family. Children need to be respected and not exhibited.

  2. The second path to attention-addiction is taken by parents who give up all their rights for the sake of the child.
    • Parents can avoid this trap by maintaining a life of their own and respecting their own rights. Insisting that a child sleep in their own bed for instance, is a positive step toward that child's independence. Insisting that a child go to bed at a reasonable hour is also a good thing to do. Parents need private time. It is healthy for a marriage and healthy for the child to understand that there are limits and parents need time for each other.
    • Providing a child a book to look at while Mom or Dad reads a grown up book is a good thing to do. There are times to read to the child and there are times for parents to read to themselves. If a parent refuses to stop (even though comprehension may be hopeless with a preschooler screaming at one's knees), the child will learn to respect the parent's right for personal time.
    • Children should not be allowed to interrupt adult conversations. They can be taught how to let their presence be known without interrupting. Show a preschooler how to lay one hand on the adults arm or leg and wait patiently until the adult can speak with the child. By covering the child's hand with one's own, the child understands that the parent knows he is there.

      Parents must not give in by lecturing the child on not interrupting and then saying, "What do you want?" The child who is allowed to interrupt, will continue to do so as long as he gets the adults complete attention.

      Mom and Dad may need to go into their room and lock the door to keep a child from interrupting their conversation. If they do, the child will learn that it is better to be quiet and with Mom and Dad than to interrupt and be without them.

We must pay attention to our children. They cannot thrive without it. At the same time, we harm our children if we do not set limits. By respecting our own rights, we teach our children to respect us. We also prevent the damage that attention-addiction can do to a child and the family.

next: Tell Your Kids Why You Like Them