Why Attention-Seeking Behavior in Children Might Be More Than It Seems

4.5 min read|899 words|Categories: General|

We’ve all heard it said before that children who act out are looking for attention. Teachers, coaches, grandparents and parents alike tend to fall into the misconception that all wrongful or unwanted behavior is geared towards endless attention-seeking.

While children do require intentional one-on-one time from the adults in their lives, it’s a disservice to assume all negative behavior is a cry for affection. In this article, we’ll explore what attention seeking behavior in your child really means, unmet needs examples and what you can do about it.

Changing the language around childhood behaviors

There are two reasons why the phrase “attention seeking” is problematic. First, it gives a negative connotation to a natural and positive desire that children receive care and focus from their loved ones. 

It’s normal and healthy to want the attention of adults. On the flip side, a child who was disinterested in their parent’s time and approval would be cause for concern.

The second issue with labeling any negative outbursts as attention seeking behavior in your child is that it closes off any consideration that other needs aren’t being met. Just like adults, children have a complex array of emotional and physical needs that vary day to day and should be clumped together and dismissed as attention-seeking.

What does your child really need?

Understanding your child’s behavior isn’t as simple as reading a list— but it can start there. Read these unmet needs examples and apply them to your own family situation. You know your kid best, and with a little guidance you can learn how to fulfill unmet needs.


Many kids who seem to have high energy wind up with behavioral issues because their need for movement is being suppressed in their environments. This often happens in school settings. 

A sign of this is when children who may have difficulty in classroom academics excel in athletics or leadership tasks. If your child is struggling to maintain focus at home, see what you can do to schedule in breaks for movement, like a walk around the block or a dance party. 

Work with your child’s teacher to brainstorm non-disruptive chances for physical activity, like a standing desk or foot pedals.


Introverts and extroverts alike have an innate desire to socialize. Yet many children are punished for socializing in the wrong settings or in the wrong way. If your child struggles to make friends, manage healthy friendships or regulate social time, your child may have an unmet need for socializing.

If your child is not getting the proper socialization he or she needs, try teaching social rules, increasing opportunities to spend time with peers or finding an older buddy for your kid to learn from.


One of the most difficult tasks of parenting is balancing routine with flexibility and rules with leniency. It sometimes flies under the radar when children are seeking more structure to their environment.

All people need structure at different levels but nonetheless structure is important. If you can’t seem to find a reason why your child’s behavior seems unmanageable, try imposing stricter rules. It will be challenging at first, but you may find your little one flourishes with clearly defined boundaries.


As a parent, you are your child’s safe haven. Some children may have experienced trauma or personal insecurity that makes emotional or physical affection difficult. When a child doesn’t feel comfortable in his or her environment, it may manifest as difficult behavior.

To increase your child’s security, take the time to have conversations about creating a safe space. Express that you will always listen. While rules are important, if your child has an issue, fear of punishment shouldn’t keep them from confiding in you or coming to you for help.


We all want to hear that we’re doing well and in your child’s most formative years it’s important to offer frequent reassurance. Parents may wonder whether praise leads a person to seek external motivation, but there’s no evidence that this is true.

In fact, offering genuine and frequent affirmations instead boost a child’s confidence and self-efficacy. Giving compliments to your kids can also improve your relationship as you’ll be looking to notice their accomplishments and personality and feel proud of how you’ve raised them.


Our world seems to be so success-driven that modern parents are swept into thinking about college before grade school is finished. While it’s a noble goal to want high achievement for your family, it’s critical to let kids be kids. 

A child who feels pushed beyond his or her limits will react in a negative way. If your child feels overworked, pressured or is experiencing anxiety, it might be time to take a step back. Focus on relaxation, humor and letting your kid be a kid.

Meeting unmet needs

If you’ve identified an unmet needs example that rings true for a child in your life but you don’t know how to start addressing it, don’t worry. Pyramid Online Counseling can offer the guidance you need as you navigate these tricky waters.

Pyramid Online Counseling works with children, adolescents and adults who struggle with mental health issues or the stress of everyday life. Get in contact today to find the right service for you.

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