Tackling Tantrums For Attention Seeking Behaviours In Children

Attention Seeking Tantrums

You'll pay attention now, you better be noticing this!! I can keep this up you know!!
You'll pay attention now, you better be noticing this!! I can keep this up you know!! | Source

What is a tantrum?

Whether tantrums are functioning as attention seeking behaviours or not most often a tantrum is simply a form of communication. It's a way for a child to say: "Look, parents, teachers and everybody else, you'd better give me what I want and quickly!”

Tantrums have cycles.The usual pattern is as follows:

  • A beginning when distraction or intervention may work

  • A middle were the tantrum is in full flight, here its more a case of damage limitation as a child will likely be beyond distraction and any interaction at this point may only serve to escalate the situation

  • The end or wind down, were the child is in the process of calming down.

Why do children have tantrums?

Mostly, it’s because they work! Tantrums are a very effective way for children to get what they want, or they would not do them, they simply would not exert all that energy for nothing.

What do children want?

Sweets, attention, to be left alone, a favourite toy, not to go to bed, to continue playing , more treats, no more vegetables, no more noise and so on and so forth . Children can appear very demanding and impatient, wanting what they want, when they want it, which is usually 'right now'. Patience may be a virtue but as anyone with experience of small children can readily attest it’s not something we’re born with.

"Help me with my kids" you say! So what can you do about it?

1. Always Keep in Mind that Tantrums are a Form of Communication

Whilst tantrums can be frustrating or even infuriating at home and even more intense and embarrassing in public they are usually just your Child's most effective way of communicating what it is they want or need. If you’re lucky you may be able to quickly discover what it is they want and why they are having a tantrum. If your child has special needs or language difficulties, teaching alternative ways to augment communication such as using a visual communication strategy or system such as PECS may help reduce your Child's need to communicate with their behaviour. Continually reminding yourself that a tantrum is your Child's way of communicating and not just them ‘being bold’ does help to increase your own tolerance during those particularly trying times. Being able to control your own emotions during these stressful times also helps to prevent any further escalation to already tense situations.


2. Learn to appropriately use Planned Ignoring

Tantrums and attention seeking behaviour often go hand in hand. Planned ignoring is a strategy to deal with behaviours that thrive on attention. If deemed an appropriate strategy and with reference to the provisos detailed below Planned Ignoring involves the parent or caregiver completely ignoring the Tantrum in all and every situation, or this approach will fail to work. You are attempting to teach your child that you will never give into them when they Tantrum.

What happens when we ignore, yell, or punish for a while and then eventually give in? The child learns that for a tantrum to work, it must be loud and prolonged. In other words, you run the risk of creating a worse situation than you started with. It is important to keep in mind that even if you do not respond to a tantrum on many of the occasions that it occurs that the tantrum behaviour can still be kept firmly in place by it occasionally being successful for the child. When this type of situation occurs the tantrums are on what is known by behaviourists as an intermittent reinforcement schedule. Namely the child’s behaviour sometimes results in a payoff and sometimes it doesn’t. This is the same type of reinforcement that occurs for example in gambling whereby the gambler often fails to win or hit but knows that sometimes they will, a very powerful form of reinforcement indeed.

Guidelines for the Planned Ignoring of Tantrums

  1. Everybody with regular contact with your child should agree to respond to each and every tantrum in the same way

  2. You must be consistent in tackling tantrums whenever and wherever they occur. Treat the Tantrum as if it does not exist. Do not look at or touch the child (bar ensuring your child’s safety). Do not talk to your child, correct your child, yell at your child, threaten your child, reason with your child, comment on the tantrum, explain your actions to the child or otherwise attempt to comfort or console your child

  3. You may praise other children for their appropriate behaviour during this time but do not talk to others in the room about the child’s tantrum. If other adults are present you may engage them in unrelated chat but otherwise should busy yourself with other activities

  4. When the tantrum stops (initially this may take a long time), wait a few minutes before praising your child for their next appropriate behaviour. Do not discuss the tantrum and refrain from giving your child the item or privilege they were tantrumming for until at least 20 to 30 minutes have passed. At that time it maybe appropriate to say: "Now ask me again for a biscuit” (or whatever the item/activity that set the tantrum off).Then you should praise the child for asking appropriately and provide the item/activity concerned

  5. Planned Ignoring should be paired with praise. Whilst ignoring particular target behaviours it is very important to provide the child with praise and attention for exhibiting any other positive or preferred behaviour. This works to increase the positive behaviours in question whilst at the same time reducing the Childs need to seek out the more negative attention previously attained by engaging in the target or undesirable attention seeking behaviour.

Important Provisos:

  • You must make sure that ignoring the behaviour in question will not be dangerous or unsafe for the child concerned or for anyone else

  • Keep in mind that behaviour often worsens before getting better.Therefore you must determine that those involved can tolerate the temporary but perhaps prolonged escalation of challenging behaviour that usually accompanies the introduction of a planned ignoring strategy

  • Remember that very established behaviours can take a long time to eliminate or overcome
  • As a general rule a period of at least 1 month should be allowed before assessing the true effectiveness of a given planned ignoring strategy or indeed before deciding to give up. However you will often see positive results much quicker than that
  • Occasionally a tantrum may go too far. If a child starts to hurt or become a danger to himself or others Planned Ignoring is not appropriate and you will need to intervene to ensure the safety of all concerned

  • Don’t give up and try not to be discouraged as whilst very effective if strictly followed Planned Ignoring can be far harder than it sounds to implement consistently

  • Always keep in mind that you are ignoring the behaviour in question and not the child.This is an important distinction which can sometimes inadvertently be forgotten

  • Remember to be consistent and don’t forget to ‘Catch them when they’re good’!!

Additional Cautionary Notes: Be sure you know the function of the behaviour.

The same behaviours in this case 'tantrum behaviours' can occur for many different reasons other than as attention seeking behaviours.In fact the same child can engage in the same behaviour at different times for different reasons.It is therefore important to note that whilst 'Planned Ignoring' may often comprise part of your behavioural intervention, it should only be your sole strategy when you are sure the behaviour in question is purely an attention seeking behaviour.If for example the tantrum behaviour is occurring because your child has no other way to communicate, ignoring the behaviour without for instance, also teaching a child a new or more appropriate way to communicate, will not work and is clearly unfair to the child. Likewise if a child uses tantrum behaviours in order to escape certain situations or demands or unfavourable activities or indeed to be left alone then clearly ignoring those behaviours would be the wrong response and could even reinforce (make more likely) those same tantrum behaviour in the future.

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Comments 24 comments

the pink umbrella profile image

the pink umbrella 5 years ago from the darkened forest deep within me.

tantrums are from communication frustration. not all kids are being brats.


Rob Winters profile image

Rob Winters 5 years ago Author

Hi pink umbrella,tantrums can be for many different reasons one of which indeed could be a frustration response to not being understood or not being able to communicate your needs,wants etc.I agree its usually not helpful or appropriate to write tantrums off as 'kids just being brats' In this hub i have focussed on dealing with tantrums when theyare being used for attention seeking purposes,this is of course only one of the common reasons behind why children sometimes have tantrums.


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

Great Hub! I voted Up and Useful as you have some very good information here for new parents. Keep up the good work!

JSMatthew~


Rob Winters profile image

Rob Winters 5 years ago Author

Thanks JS.I appreciate that.

It's my first hub so it's great to get positive feedback.


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

Welcome to HubPages! You have a knack for writing! Keep up the good work. I am looking forward to reading more.

JSMatthew~


Rob Winters profile image

Rob Winters 5 years ago Author

Thank you very much, will do.Looking around at yourself and others it seems like i've a lot of catching up to do :)


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

It takes time, Rob. Best thing you can do is check out the Learning Center. Here's a link: http://hubpages.com/@learningcenter

There is so much useful information there. You are off to a good start here, keep going!

JSMatthew~


Rob Winters profile image

Rob Winters 5 years ago Author

Yep looks like it's very comprehensive and informative and i've bookmarked it.I nearly went into overload mind, when i looked at all the links there.BTW in the time since u first replied to my question hubpages got back to me about my support query!!


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

Wow, that's good. I have heard a lot of people complain that they don't get a response. I have written to a specific staff member twice about applying to be a HubGreeter with no response. Perhaps they are not assigning them anymore. They are very busy! I am glad that you have resolved your issue.

Anyway, the Learning Center has a decent amount of links and it can look overwhelming. What I did was I read the things I really wanted and needed to learn, and then eventually reviewed the things I was already familiar with.

This has proven to be valuable to me. I reference certain topics from there quite often.

JSMatthew~


Rob Winters profile image

Rob Winters 5 years ago Author

Yep.Sounds like a good approach to using the learning center.I'm on a number of steep learning curves these days :) - Using Hubpages just being one of them. At least the materials are there and if the general hubpages community are as responsive and helpful as yourself it'll be plain sailing soon enough.


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

It will all work itself out if you put in the time. Many of the Hubbers are incredible! You'll see!

JSMatthew~


LINC 5 years ago

Attention seeking...what else could kids possibly want and why is that a bad thing ? They are always craving more of us, our stories, our food, our snuggles, our invitation to exist, etc. The frustration of which you write is really telling us they need to be moved to tears and be 'held in' the experience of what is not working for them. " You are so upset that crayon broke" and let the tears come. This is how we prime the adaptive process and it registers physiologically in the brain that they survived. This needs to be done with the utmost of warmth and compassion and then watch how your child changes to a gentle and tender soul.A civilized society depends solely on the fruit of this effort.

Debbie


Rob Winters profile image

Rob Winters 5 years ago Author

Hi Debbie, thank you for your comments.

Young children want and need for many different things , attention only being one of them albeit a common one. Sometimes a child's behaviour is driven by their desire to just communicate or to escape or avoid something unpleasant or to gain or obtain something favourable or to feel loved or because it feels good or for numerous other reasons not all of which can be covered at once.

Seeking attention is absolutely not a bad thing.In fact it is completely normal and appropriate and we should never be trying to remove or eliminate a child's need for attention.That is not at all the message i am trying to communicate here.However sometimes through no fault of their own, some children have learnt to fulfill this natural need for attention in ways that are not always the most appropriate or ways that can pose difficulty for their parents or those who care for them. It is about helping these children(and their parents) to meet their needs in ways that are most appropriate.This is what naturally happens for most of us or else we'd have adults everywhere stamping their feet and having tantrums all the time in order to be attended to or whatever else they wanted. Some people need more support with this.

Remember the same behaviours can indicate different things at different times.If a child is crying because they are upset because their crayon broke,as you said it would be cruel and innappropriate to ignore them as in that situation they need to be understood, empathised with, comforted and helped.The guidelines provided above are clearly stated as only being appropriate when you are sure a childs behaviour is for the purposes of gaining attention and then you are only talking about ignoring the behaviour in question and never the child. Any strategy you use would hopefully be done from a place of compassion and a desire to improve things for all.

I completely agree with your point that children (everybody for that matter) should be treated with warmth and compassion in a way that nourishes and supports the soul.I apologise if you percieved anything else on my part and hope i've clarified things somewhat.


LINC 5 years ago

I understand. You may be interested in the book HOLD ON TO YOUR KIDS by Gordon Neufeld. It is really quite revolutionary.


Rob Winters profile image

Rob Winters 5 years ago Author

Thanks Debbie, i'm always open to integrating new or other advice or techniques, i'll try to check that out. Funny thing is i heard someone recommending some form of holding technique on the radio a couple of days ago, not sure if it's the same source - maybe the universe is trying to tell me something :-)


Tamarajo profile image

Tamarajo 5 years ago from Southern Minnesota

Excellent advice "Planned ignoring" I have 4 granddaughters under the age of 4. I find this very useful. I also read another note this week that talked about how ineffective yelling was in dealing with this issue and it stated that if we can't control or own emotional responses how can we expect them to...this must be my lesson for the week : )


Rob Winters profile image

Rob Winters 5 years ago Author

Thank you Tamarjo, i'm glad you found it useful. We can & do all lose our composure from time to time particularly when things are a little hectic, which can be rather frequently when you throw young children into the mix but reminding ourselves that it's not personal (as obvious as that may seem) and that the tantrums etc are usually the child's best or only way of communicating their needs or frustrations at the time can be really helpful at keeping our own 'reactive responses' and emotional reactions in check (at least most of the time :-).

Once you lose a little emotional control and perspective yourself the situation tends to escalate and endure longer than needs be. I find taking a couple of deep breaths and silently repeating the mantra 'this too will pass' can also be helpful at those particularly trying times.

I totally agree with your other source that yelling at children in these situations is not particularly helpful as a long term approach and actually becomes less and less effective with time usually resulting in the need to yell louder and harder etc to continue having any impact, if at all. It's not particularly good for the yeller either.

When negative interactions become predominant in a child-parent/carer relationship it can sometimes lead to the adult resenting the child or minimising their personal contact as a means to reduce the stress of conflict, leaving the child with little opportunity for sufficient positive attention.In really difficult situations and in the absence of sufficient positive attention & interactions children can even come to seek out these negative attentions creating a vicious cirlce for all.

Thankfully this is not the norm. GL with all those little grandaughters. I have one little nearly 3 year old 'self professed princess' in particular that has put my emotional control to the test on enough occassions to know these things can be easier said than done :-)


techygran profile image

techygran 4 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

Another Grandma to granddaughters here who appreciates this hub... it is a reminder to me from my working days when I found great clarity in the teachings of Alfred Adler concerning parenting and "all behaviour has purpose". I must say that I see fewer tantrums in public these days, which I find interesting. I DO see a number of tots who seem to be more of the "self-proclaimed princesses" with extremely attentive parents. I also hear less yelling at tired kids in stores than in the old days. Maybe I am not around children often enough these days or perhaps children are getting their needs met in less aggressive ways?

Thank you. ~Cynthia


Rob Winters profile image

Rob Winters 4 years ago Author

Your most welcome tecygran. You are so right about the importance of understanding the function of a behavior. Making an incorrect assumption about a behavior's function can easily result in innappropriate responses or interventions and often a worsening of the situation. Remember that different children often use the same behavior for different reasons and an individual can often use the same behavior for different reasons at different times particularly if they have discovered the power of a particulary emotive behavior.

For instance if a child is using tantrums in order to be left alone and a person assumes they are merely seeking attention so decides to ignore the behavior (correct for attention seeking behaviors but not in this situation) they will inadvertently be reinforcing (strengthening) the behavior they are trying to reduce.

Tantrums are a perfectly normal part of human development but when they become excessive or persevere beyond the early years something usually needs to be done to help.

Your observations are interesting Cynthia and i've not seen any research on this but I think tantrums are still very much a part of every day life for many families.Perhaps you're just lucky to be frequenting very well behaved shopping malls :-).

I think you are right about the "self-proclaimed princesses" and the extremely attentive parents.Perhaps people are more concious of making a scene in public nowadays and more inclined to appease when out and about.Perhaps childrens reactions would be more extreme these days and parents that have given too much control to their kids dare not step on their toes :-) Interesting points you raise. It would indeedbe nice to assume the more positive outlook mind.Thanks for stopping by and your comments.

Regards,

Rob.


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

Great explanation and information regarding tantrums. I think too many parents are not consistant enough with their discipline. One of my previous bosses told me one time that he wished he had raised bird dogs before he had children. He learned a lot about being consistant in teaching the dogs. You have to be consistant with children as well. Good advice for children that are a little older. My daughter got her first spanking for her first tatrum. (No worries, it was a diaper spanking.) It got my point across. No more tantrums. I guess different things work with different children. Voting this up and useful! :)


Rob Winters profile image

Rob Winters 4 years ago Author

Thank for stopping by and the votes sg, glad you liked it. You are absolutely correct about 'consistency' it's vital to success.


Benjamin Chege 3 years ago

Good read


Rob Winters profile image

Rob Winters 3 years ago Author

Thanks Benjamin, glad you liked it. Thanks for letting me know. Welcome to hubpages btw :-)


Benjamin Chege 3 years ago

You're welcome. Thanks too.

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