Why does my child misbehave when he/she wants my attention?


Previously, we talked about the importance of love and attachment in parenting. The enormous influence that these aspects have on the child will help them when they become adults with interpersonal relationships and even their perception of reality. There are many studies that support and prove the importance of both love and attachment.

Going deeper on this point, Bowen’s attachment theory on emotional connection shows us that the family functions as an organism, where everything that happens to one member will affect the others. When parents are not present enough or do not give them enough attention, the children will go into despair and develop an insecure attachment style.

But I do love my children unconditionally!

Parental love is inexhaustible, that is how God wanted it and that is how it is. However, love does not imply or guarantee that you will be a good mother or father. I see this all the time In my talks with my patients, fathers and mothers who would give their lives for their children, but still have children who lack attention and who have an insecure attachment style.

Why is this happening to you? You may need to dig into your own past to understand the reason for your unconscious behaviors. The emotional dynamics that you experienced with your parents will be the same one that you will replicate with your children. If your parents always gave you attention, love, and care, it is most likely that in a natural and unconscious way, that is what you are giving to your children.
On the contrary, if you were a boy or a girl who did not experience that, then, how can you give something that you do not know? In that case, you will be clueless about how to provide a stable emotional connection. If you do not get help regarding this matter, chances are that you will repeat the story.

Exploring your memories

Our past influences our present, especially unresolved issues. Regarding this matter, I recommend the book “Parenting From the Inside Out” by Daniel J. Siegel and Mary Hartzwell. Through this book, you will be able to understand how your own childhood has made you who you are today.

Since most of our responses are related to our memory, our brains are able to respond to experiences by altering the connections between neurons, as well as the brain structure that creates memories, which shapes our identity. In fact, memory is how the brain responds to experiences and creates new brain connections. These brain connections will be either implicit or explicit.

Implicit memory generates responses to behaviors, emotions, and perceptions. These are non-verbal memories that will be there throughout our entire life. This also involves non-verbal models. For example, if a baby is comforted by his mother when he is distressed, he, while growing up, will associate comfort with his mother. This is why the mother is considered a figure of well-being and security. When experiences occur repeatedly, they will be embedded in our lives. The most amazing thing about implicit memory is that the person does not feel that he/she is remembering something when using it. He/she will not even be aware of it.

So, when you experience a certain behavior towards your children that you cannot explain, you need to explore your memories and make connections. Emotions, beliefs, perceptions, all of these may be getting in your way without you even realizing it.

Authoritarian parents vs. permissive parents

Do you feel the need to be overly demanding with your children with regards to their studies or hobbies? If so, what were your parents’ demands like when you were a child?
Another situation, do you think that physical punishment is the right way to correct your children’s misbehavior? How did your parents reprimand you?
We are capable of breaking the cycle of this type of behavior. But first we need to find a balance between giving and not giving. There are two opposite types of parenting that are not appropriate, controlling parents and permissive parents.
Women tend to be more permissive, giving excessively, while men tend to be more controlling, they do not give excessively. Both authoritarian and permissive parents are more alike than you might think. These parents choose for their children when they should be teaching their children how to choose according to their age.

The 4 strategies our children use to get attention

Children are able to analyze and develop games in relation to the way you respond to their actions. After all, you are their biggest role model, so children will be making notes in their heads on how to get what they want, whenever they want.

They also know how to use the perks or advantages and how to push buttons whenever is needed. That is why, as a parent, you cannot lose the advantage you have and you need to get the most out of it. Children react according to the social environment they grow up in. Regardless of the type of environment, they will adapt to it.

Turning to the teachings of Alfred Adler, his student, Dr. Rudolf Dreikurs, organized the four goals children have when they manifest bad behaviors. For each objective, a series of misbehavior are shown. Also, all of these goals are sequential, that is, if one is not addressed, the next one will follow.


Every child wants his/her parents’ attention. But the problem with this kind of attention is that it needs to be gained, no matter how. Their mantra is: “I only count when others notice me and serve me.”
How do you detect children who just desperately want your attention? Simple. Those are the children who do not let their mother talk on the phone and demand her time, or the girls clinging to their parents’ legs, not letting them focus on something else.

They are also the children who are constantly in trouble at school for mischief, over and over again. They know it, but for them, continuing with this type of behavior is inevitable. Furthermore, they may stop for a few moments, but then they will come back even with more strength. If you are a permissive parent, you will most likely ask for more time, so you can finish your phone call. If you are authoritarian, you will scold him/her due to his/her misbehavior.


If your child cannot get your attention, he/she will try to do it through power. His motto this time will be: “I only count when I dominate and control, when others do what I want them to do, when I want them to do it.”
How do these little ones act when seeking power? They are the children who throw tantrums, refusing to obey their parents. They are the children who yell offensive words at their parents, or tell them that they are not their “bosses.”

The thing with these children is that repressing them will only stimulate their desire to have more power. If you tell them not to do something, they will do it only because they want to win at any cost. Anything you do will increase their response. Angry responses are very common when facing these attitudes, but they are not helpful either.


If, as a parent, you do not respond the way they want you to respond to their need for power, their mantra will be: “I only count if I can hurt others the way they have hurt me.”
They already know that they have no real power, so they try to get their revenge with negative behaviors.

This is a stage that needs to be reached, so these are preteens or teenagers who take “rebelliousness” to another level. They are the children who create fake accounts on social networks to hurt other people, or the son who stole and crashed his father’s car because he felt the car was more important to the father than his own son. It is even the children who threaten to hurt themselves to make others feel bad. This stage is characterized by wanting to hurt others.

If you are a permissive parent, you will either feel like a victim or extremely guilty, while authoritarian parents will want to show their own power or revenge, continuing the cycle, and the only way to stop it is for parents do something that favors the healing process.

Assumed inadequacy

When you continue to feed your child’s thirst for revenge, he/she will get tired. At this point, he/she will realize that what he/she does will not be enough to get your attention, and he/she will have already internalized how “stupid or useless” he/she is.

Furthermore, he/she will understand that he/she does not belong anywhere, or that there is no purpose in his/her life. Their mantra will be: “I am not good. Nobody believes that I have any value. I cannot do anything right, so why bother doing anything? I give up.” This stage is characterized by wanting to hurt themselves.

These are the young introverts who are unable to socialize, work in a team, and who prefer solitude to company. The adults who grow up with no attachment to their parents, away from concepts like love, understanding, and from God. Parents do not know what to do, and they end giving up. The bond is broken, and it only remains as a reminder that this situation can happen again at any time in the next generation.

These four aspects should be of interest to us as parents. It is not easy to analyze our memories, to delve into experiences, but if we do, we will start on the right foot our way to healing our relationship with our children, and we will be heading towards the possibility of enjoying happiness in our family bonds. That is the plan that God has for us as families, that we enjoy love and happiness with those around us.
Were you aware of these four goals that children use to get the attention they crave so much? Have you ever felt their effect on your relationship with your children? I invite you to share your experience and your opinions with us in the comments section of our post. God bless you.

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