It took me a while to understand the concept that a child would actually do something for negative attention. Amazing how we forget so much when we become adults!
My first experience with negative attention came with my step son. I was bound and determined to provide a safe, warm, healthy family for the little tyke, yet every effort failed miserably. He was equally bound to be a brat and test me to my limits every step of the way, every day. I was at a loss as to why this child would continue to be so bad when he was given every opportunity to do otherwise. Once I was introduced to the idea and concept of negative attention, it all made sense and I was able to combat his behaviour logically and successfully. It also helped to recall my days as a step child with a 'wicked step-father' in dealing with this new step-son. More on that here.
The most recent and clearest example of this came screeching at me the other day when my grand daughter went to dinner at a local restaurant with us. Everything was fine until her hamburger arrived with mustard on the bun. Her father claims she eats mustard on her burgers every time, yet the event threatened to turn a pleasant dinner into a catastrophe at any moment. From across the table, I was able to observe how the adults had lapsed into conversations that did not incude a four year old, who, left to her own devices, tired of her quiet play and decided it was time for the family (and the room) to focus on her.
Her truth, regardless of ours, was that she needed more attention than she was getting, at the time. We could have explained the adults at the table were rarely together until I was blue in the face. Her needs, as all four years old's are, were much more important to her than our conversation A compromise, at the time, was the easiest solution, conversation with the adults while one of the adults paid extra attention to her needs and her world.
That, alas, does not solve the original difficulty: a child who does not tolerate solitary activities when they tire of it. Practically and realistically, all our time simply cannot be spent with our children on a one to one. As long as the child does have quality time with her parents,and a goodly quantity of it, when the negative attention tantrum starts to rear it's ugly head, and is recognized as such, one resolution might be to simply send the child to her room until she wants to rejoin the family with a happy attitude, regardless of the current activity. Later, gently explaining to the child that there are other things the adults have to tend to is a good idea, but certainly not to be repeated more than truly needed.
Other times, you might be able to actually watch the thought process form. "I know I can't go outside now but I am going to demand it anyway to see how far I can push Mommy." Once you have shown the child that trying to push past a previously set limit serves only to be sent to a time out (over and over) the game looses it's attraction.
It is up to the parent to determine what cause is behind the child's behaviour. When your child starts a tantrum, look as quickly as you can, as to what the cause might be. Just like an infant crying, there is always a reason, a diaper pin, hunger, exhaustion or simple crankiness. If your child is being difficult on purpose, in order to obtain your attention, focus on the child calmly, firmly, quickly, quietly, lovingly, resolve the situation and move on as quickly as possible.
Again, a spoiled child is one who throws a tantrum (of any kind) when things are not going their way. Life is full of wins and losses, a lesson well learned at a very early age.
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