NUMBER 1168 • 9 MAY • attention-seeking
Let us examine more closely the phenomenon of attention-getting demands, for the previous brief paragraphs on attachment and attachment behaviors have not really addressed the common fear of feeding into attention-getting behaviors. Attention-getting behaviors are part and parcel of children’s everyday lives. However, children uprooted from their original living arrangements tend to exhibit such behavioral expressions even more strongly. It is not that they require more attention than other children; rather, as a group they have experienced, thus far, less dependable attention. Attention-getting efforts are actually attachment behaviors, involving strong individual intrusive thrusts directed toward winning fuller inclusion. Thus, the child clinging to the worker, overwhelming as that can be, may be better understood in the light of the child’s quest for inclusion rather than as undesirable “hogging” for exclusive attention.
Wanting attention is basically very human. Who doesn’t want, need, and deserve it? In our work with children or youth the salient issue is not the fact that an individual wants attention, although this reasoning is frequently used to explain and by-pass a child’s behavior. Instead, a child’s desire for attention has to be understood and addressed as a legitimate expression. To reach out for approval and companionship, to turn toward others when in distress-these are all natural desires and requirements. The writer trusts that these human qualities are also valued by child care staff and their institutional programs (Chess & Hassibi, 1978).
The issue we must concern ourselves with is establishing more secure anchorage for these children and helping them move toward more effective inclusive behaviors. For child care practice the task is thus threefold:
- Child care workers demonstrating an open attitude toward the children’s desire for inclusion. Children are to be welcomed as vital and full partners in the unit’s daily life and into society in general.
- Workers responding sensitively to the children’s urgent appeals for immediate satisfying contacts and clearly acknowledging the stress the child is undergoing.
- Workers preparing to overlook at the moment the children’s unsatisfactory behavior. Suitable behavioral expressions are taught when appropriate for the child’s learning. Sometimes teaching takes place at the critical incident and sometimes later on.
The range of appropriate child care givers’ interventions is vast. It may suffice to envision as model a mother’s everyday response to the piercing screams of a child whose tower of blocks has unexpectedly caved in. A sensitive parent will respond to the child’s frustration rather than to her inconvenience at being called away from her task at hand. She will respond to the child’s experience of disappointment rather than to the unpleasantness of the screams. Above all, she will encourage the child to try again, possibly assuring him or her that there is no need to scream so vehemently. Even better, she may not comment at all the child’s vocal outburst of despair (in contrast to trying to extinguish the screams lest the youngster become a screamer). Recent research points clearly to the fact that it is not the children’s future behavior, but their future trust in others and consequent sense of independence that are at stake (Kagan, 1978; Sable, 1979; Segal & Yahraes, 1978).
Maier, H. Developmental group care of children and youth: Concepts and practice. New York: Haworth. pp. 34-35