Have you ever had a child who is constantly seeking attention? Who persistently makes noise or talks or does things that they know annoy you? Anything to have your attention every waking moment of every day? If you have, you know how draining, frustrating, and annoying it can be. Now picture this: A very tall, very loud, large teenager consistently asking repeatedly, “Do you hear me, Miss/Mr. [insert your name here]?” or “Do you see me, Miss/Mr. [insert your name here]?” while displaying consistent, in your face (and ears), attention-seeking behaviors. After a while, you may just feel like saying, “Of course! How can I not see or hear you?!” I never responded that way, but I sure wanted to!
I See You
In the midst of me getting frustrated and annoyed with this behavior, this teen inadvertently gave me an “ah-ha moment.” A couple times, this youth grinned and said, “I see you, Miss Margie,” when I quietly did something silly, like a funny little dance to a song on the car radio or something. Something happened inside me…a warm, fuzzy feeling. I couldn’t help but smile. I felt seen.
Kids Need to Be Seen and Heard
In different cultures and times, adults have said, “Kids should be seen and not heard.” But we now know from research with kids from neglectful or abusive backgrounds and children who have been in institutions, bad things happen to children who have not been seen and heard. They give up using their voice and start using behaviors or, worse, they just give up on life entirely.
This young person cried out all the time with words and behaviors…needing acknowledgement, needing to know that people are seeing and hearing those cries. So, I decided I needed to figure out creative ways to move past my exhaustion and frustration and let the child know I was seeing and hearing, preferably at times that would not reinforce inappropriate or annoying behaviors.
3 Fears Children Are Addressing
You will forget me.
Children in foster care or who were adopted have frequently been neglected and in situations where the adult in charge literally forgot about the child or their needs. Annoying behaviors are simply a way for a child to continually make sure that you notice them and avoid the fear that the child will be lost in the noise of other daily tasks.
You won’t believe me.
Some children frequently use exaggerated words or terminology that seemingly make a situation more intense than what it actually was in real life. The terminology used would often be used in crisis situations. Many children in care did not have their concerns heard and believed until a crisis occurred that eventually resulted in them being removed them from their birth home. The child fears that the only way to be believed and have adults act is to create a similar crisis situation again.
I don’t matter (enough) to you.
Everyone has a need to feel important to someone else. They need someone who will move heaven and earth to protect them. Kids in foster care or who have been adopted often feel abandoned and rejected. They believe they do not matter, at least not enough for an adult to make changes or rearrange their schedule or sacrifice for them, even if they screw up.
Now It’s Your Turn:
- What have you done to make a child feel seen or heard?
- How do you manage your frustrations with persistent attention-seeking behavior?