What do you do when your child makes a lot of choices knowing full well they are against the rules? What about the child who notices all of those choices and suddenly becomes a saint who can't seem to do enough chores and/or gifts of service for mom and dad? What if they are foster children? What if they are adopted? What if they are your biological children? Does any of that change your perspective or corrective action?
The following (as with all of my posts) is my opinion based on my life experiences. :0)
I can only talk about my own experiences and they are limited to being
raised in a two parent home, living as a two parent family with
biological sons and foster children who change fairly frequently, aunt to 7 adopted foster children, an only child niece, 8 years as a childcare provider and friend to a few other family scenarios.
So I am limited, very limited. Also, I am fairly conservative. I don't
buy into the whole idea that children need to be protected from failure,
natural consequences, emotional pain (not to be confused with abuse)
or other things I consider facts of life. I believe children (and
adults) benefit from getting through the tough stuff. Eventually :o)
I believe children from different backgrounds implement attention seeking tactics for different reasons, and therefore should be handled differently. A child who has lived in an abusive, neglectful, violent, unstable or other wise unsafe home, resulting in being placed in foster care, should not be disciplined in the same fashion as a child born to you, living with you (a loving mom and dad), in a safe environment. If we agree so far...
My biological children (both sons), have always lived with their dad and me. Things have not always been perfect, after all, we are human. We have always had a home, and an endless supply of love. Patience, well that is a work in progress. One of my children is very active. We often joke that he is ADHD. The truth is, he probably is. His mouth is often quiet, but only while he sleeps. He forgets what he is doing so often it is incredibly frustrating, for him as well as the rest of us. He has a hard time making and maintaining friends because he is so busy and changes activities very often. It doesn't help that we homeschool and he has little exposure to other kids on a daily basis, but that is something I am working to fix. He is also on of the sweetest, most giving children you will ever meet. He would give his very last "anything" if you asked for it. He loves like no other child and hurts just as deep when disciplined or made to feel like he has disappointed mom or dad. His brother is an incredible worker, in part because he has the focus to finish a task. He is very short tempered and quick to be irritated by other people, especially his brother. He is 11 going on 15 and rolls his eyes and sighs a big hmpph! at the suggestion of doing any task with his brother and he thinks he is the second father in our house too! He is also very quick to to come to my aid with most anything. He is incredibly respectful to adults and a great help to his father. He prides himself on being the apple of his father and my eyes. Am I trying to cut my kids down? No, I am saying that I have normal kids with normal strengths and weaknesses. I do not believe there is such a thing as a perfect child, or adult for that matter. My kids are awesome. I love them tremendously, regardless of their flaws or choices. My kids need to be told when they have done a good job or had some wonderful behaviors, but they don't act out if we forget to praise them for flushing the toilet. Whenever they do start attention seeking it usually can be resolved with a chat and some quality time with or away from some member of the family. (It is hard to be a child in a house with foster siblings who require a lot of YOUR parents time and energy and need to be praised or corrected at every turn.)
I have been a foster parent to more than a few kids. I have seen a range of abuses that would nauseate most anyone. A lot of the kids placed in the care of my family have been asked to leave one or more foster homes due to severe behavior challenges. (Remember, I am not judging these families, I have been in their shoes too. It is hard to ask them to leave. I don't think you ever truly get over the heart hurt, but that is a whole 'nuther post :0) I have had kids with a vast array of abuses. These kids have talents and skills otherwise commonly associated with hoodlums and thieves. They don't know any better though. They have learned to behave certain ways in order to get their needs met. It is kinda like a baby crying at all hours of the day and night, you know they need something, it just takes time to figure out what it is they are after.
Some of our foster children have gone for long periods of time without being fed. They have had parents who by their description, sleep all day and don't always remember to feed them. These kids tend to eat everything the see, if it comes from a box. They can sneak food like the raccoon in the movie Over the Hedge. It feels like a violation to learn that kids are stealing from you. Or at least it does to me, initially. Then you learn about their past and can start to understand that it isn't so much about stealing as it is about stocking up for the days you stay in bed all day too, and forget to feed them. After all, that is what ALL parents do, right? It is in the eyes of a child who knows no different. So how do you discipline in that situation? When they are inevitably doing what they have been taught was necessary to their survival... I can't speak for everyone, but the first thing I do is try to remember just that, this is a survival skill that life has taught them. With that in mind, I explain how it feels when I find out they have been taking food without permission. I tell them that if they are hungry they should come to me and ask for a snack. I make sure they know that there is always food to be eaten, just not always food from a box. They often have to be introduced to foods that come from the earth, in much the same way as a toddler. One or two items at a time repeated until it is familiar. What about meal times you say? Once upon a time in the not so distant past, I was inclined to not allow a child to eat snacks if they refuse or chose not to eat all of their meal. That is not so much the case anymore. First I try to provide an amount of food that can easily be eaten, usually about 1/2 of what I think they would want. That way when they have finished everything on their plate they can choose which items they want a second helping of. If they still choose not to eat a particular food group, I will only allow that food group for a snack in between meals. For example, one of my current kids really struggles with eating meat. He is often only allowed protein choices like cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, or slices of lunch meat or nuts in between meals. This is a first for our house. Most kids struggle with the fruits and veggies. This approach avoids the food fight and allows the kids to make some choices based on the knowledge of the outcome. They get to choose what they eat, and yet they have to eat balanced choices.
What about the child who knowingly breaks the rules? You know, the child you catch watching t.v. in her room just minutes after you told her she needed to clean her room before the t.v. could come on. The one you pick up from school in a summer dress without the sweater she was told to wear (while it is snowing). The one who hides her notes from the teacher, even though the report comes home daily and she knows you will be looking for it. The child who takes things from the other kids and puts them in plain sight in her room as if she wants to be caught. The child who writes her own name on the wall. The child who uses toothpaste to draw on the wall in the bathroom. The child who repeatedly announces that she has to go number two, and then doesn't flush. The child who sits at the table and passes gas at nearly every meal. You know, the one who will stop at nothing to get attention, even if it is negative. And for whatever reason, negative attention is most often what they choose. What do you do about that? One method I have found to be effective is to routinely praise every child in your home for every. single. little. tiny. POSITIVE thing. "Oh! SO and so, you flushed the toilet and washed your hands! I think you need a sticker!!! Whoo hoo!" Another option is avoiding discussion with the child who is misbehaving. Things like, "Remember, no tv until the room is clean." Said calmly, with a smile, while turning off the television and walking out of the room. No anger, disappointment, discussion about following the rules etc. Just calmly correct and go." Hmm, you must be cold without your sweater, put it on so we can go." or "Too bad about your report from your teacher. I'm not sure how to reward you for your good behaviors when I don't have them." or "I think that toy belongs in so and so's room, can you put it there please?" or "Hmm, looks like you need to wash your bedroom walls. Here is some cleaner and a rag. Let me know when you are done." or "It looks like someone drew on the bathroom wall in toothpaste, would you clean it up, please?" or "Looks like you forgot to flush the toilet, can you take care of that." As for the gas passing at the table.. Yuck, I'm open to suggestions. As for now I choose not to share a meal with that child. I will sit with them, but I cannot eat with them. I remind them of the appropriate place to have that bodily function happen and how incredibly unladylike or ungentlemanly it is too do at the table..
What about you? How do you handle attention seeking?