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3 min read

Most people think of "attention-seeking behaviour" as bad. How many times have you heard, "oh he's just doing that for attention" and it's always meant in a negative way.

BUT... when you think about it - it's just our child seeking attention and connection with us.

Young children are still learning to communicate and "attention-seeking behaviour" is often how they ask for help.

Whether it's:

  • Anger because they're hungry
  • Running in circles because they've been sitting for too long
  • Crying because they're hot
  • Hiding because they're overwhelmed

It's just easier for young children to show how they feel via behaviour than language.

That's why Dr. Shanker, the author of one of our favourite books in shop, recommends that parents become "Stress Detectives".

Change Your Child's Behaviour WITHOUT Discipline

"Bad" behaviour is often caused by too much stress.

By figuring out the cause of the stress and helping your child solve it, you can diffuse the behaviour without discipline and help them learn to self-regulate.

Here are the five steps in Dr. Shanker's method:

1. Reframe the behaviour

In your head, reframe difficult behaviour as stress. Don't take it personally. It's likely that something has happened inside your child. The next step is to figure out what that is.

2. Figure out the cause of the stressWhich of these could be the reason for your child's stress? A helpful strategy is to ask yourself "Why?" and "Why now?" when a change in behaviour occurs.I recommend printing out the list below and posting it somewhere that you'll regularly see as a gentle nudge to follow this process. Click here for a printable version.

  • Biological - stress that affects our physiological system. For example, hunger, feeling tired, sickness, loud noises, feeling too hot/cold, bright lights, uncomfortable clothing, etc
  • Emotional - when emotions become overwhelming. Note that this could be caused both negative OR positive feelings, like surprises, disappointment, overexcitement, fear, pain, or loneliness.
  • Cognitive - stress caused by difficulty processing information. This can happen when your child is given a task that is too difficult or not developmentally appropriate. For example, tasks requiring a level of concentration, speed, or skill far beyond your child's current capabilities.
  • Social - stress that occurs in social settings. This could happen at school, birthday parties, or holidays and could be related to feeling overwhelmed in a new environment, feeling left out, bullying, jealousy, making friends, etc.
  • Prosocial - difficulty coping with other people's stress. For example, when a family member is sick, there's a crying baby in the environment, they're dealing with the emotions of others, or world events.

3. Reduce the stress

Once you figure out the cause of the stress, do what you can to remove it.

Note that this is still not the time to correct the behaviour and it is not a teachable moment. That will come later.

4. Reflect and enhance stress awareness

Once your child's stress is lowered, help them to make the connection between the stressor and how it made them feel.

"Wow, you were feeling so hot and uncomfortable with that sweater on. It made you feel so much better once we took it off. If you feel hot like that again, let me know and I'll help you take off your sweater."

This will help them eventually make those connections on their own and learn to self-regulate.

5. Restore energy

The last step is to restore your child's energy and bring them back to a place where they are calm and content. The stress and consequent behaviour would have depleted their energy so choose a calming activity that will help restore that.

This will be different for every child so you can help direct them to something based on what you know about them and what they like to do.

Since this process may have also been stressful for you, it's a good opportunity to do the same for yourself.

You're Allowed to Be Frustrated!

Reframing your child's behaviour as stress or using this process doesn’t mean your child's behaviour will never be frustrating BUT it will help you empathize with your child more often.

I also find it helps to remind myself that by doing this, I am helping them to eventually build the valuable skill of self-regulation.

This process takes more patience than sending a child to time out but the long-term benefits for your entire family will be invaluable.

If you're interested in reading Dr. Shanker's Self-Reg book, you can find it on the website here: https://themontessoriroom.com/products/self-reg-by-dr-stuart-shanker