I love working with and playing with my children. But, the crying game is a game I don’t play. Many children treat the crying behavior as if it is part of a game. They are able to go in and out of the crying game all day long whenever they see it can benefit them. Children often cry simply to get attention. I know it is hard for many parents to discern whether their child is seeking attention or not. Here is a true story which is meant to help clear up some of that confusion.
Recently, I spent one day canning apple pie filling with my eight year old son, Porter. He was such a big help to me. He washed and peeled all the apples as I prepared jars, and made sauce to pour over the apples. As we worked we talked and sang songs. It was a beautiful, memory making day.
As Porter worked he became more and more confident in his canning skills. In fact, he had helped me do the family canning many times over his short eight years. As I was filling the jars Porter new it was time to boil the lids for the jars. Without asking, he boiled the lids and started removing them from the pan and putting them on the counter top. Putting the lids on the dirty counter top was not a good way to prepare the lids for canning so I said, “Porter, don’t put the lids there. They will get all dirty. Put them back in the pan to boil for a few more minutes until I am ready to have them go directly on the jars.”
In hind sight, I see that I probably should have praised Porter for trying to help with the lids without being asked, before I corrected him. It is always better to start a correction out on a positive note. However, in the minute I really was only thinking about quickly changing his course of lid preparation to make the project go smoother. And, children should be able to accept no answers from parents. Giving no answers is part of parenting. Accepting no answers is a basic life skill and key to happiness. Think of all the no answers in life. From health problems to losing the car keys there are many.
Porter put the lids back in the pan and then disappeared. I knew I probably didn’t handle the situation the best way I could of, but didn’t stop to fix it just yet as I was trying to get the pie filling finished. (Note: when inspired to fix a problem, do it right then. Later is not as good as now.)
A few minutes later my daughter came into the kitchen and said, “Mom, your youngest son is in his room crying.”
So I said, “It sounds like his is not accepting a no answer. I will go talk to him about it in a minute.”
In our house, if a child chooses not to accept a no answer by (1) looking at the person, (2) keeping a calm voice, face, and body (3) saying okay, or disagreeing appropriately (4) and then , dropping the subject, then the child earns an extra chore. So, when Porter heard me talking from the other room he knew he had chosen to earn an extra chore.
Within 20 seconds Porter walked calmly and happily into the kitchen and said, “Mom I wasn’t really crying. I was just faking it. Sometimes I just fake crying when I don’t get my way…I know how to stop crying.”
I couldn’t help but smile inside. I remember doing the same thing to get people to feel bad for me when I was young. I also realized that pretending to be sad helped me get out of so many chores and responsibilities. It was a manipulative skill I learned when I was young too, but had long since decided that lying was a dangerous way to try to create strong relationships. In fact, it just doesn’t work.
“Porter,” I said, “I’m so glad to know you are happy and that you really don’t have problems with accepting no answers. However, since you pretended not to accept no answers you still have to do an extra chore as a negative consequence… Okay?”
“Okay.” said Porter.
“When you fake crying to make other people feel bad for you, that is called seeking attention. Seeking attention means doing something to try to get someone to worry about you or treat you special. Seeking attention is kind of like a game to many people, but really it is only a lie. When you were pretending to be sad, you were lying to your sisters. If you are ever sad for real, they won’t know if you are lying or telling the truth…Crying is not a game. Okay?” I said as I hugged Porter tightly.
“Okay.” said Porter with a smile on his face. “What do you want me to do for my extra chore?”
“Porter, you are so good at accepting a consequence! You are calm and you said okay and even remembered to ask me what your consequence was. Accepting a consequence is a really honest thing to do. It shows that you admit you have made a bad choice and that you are wanting to fix it and not do it again. That is a very brave and grown up thing to do. High five! Earlier you were such a big help canning. You even did things without being asked. Thank you. I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you thank you at the time.”
In this story Porter was seeking positive attention. He wanted people to treat him kindly and pamper him since he felt bad. Seeking positive attention is something all people do to some degree. We all want people to praise us and appreciate us. We want to be comforted and loved.
But, just like all good things, there are boundaries. When a person seeks positive attention by being dishonest, or manipulates other people’s feelings in order to get appreciated, praised, comforted etc. then the person has just crossed a boundary which will damage a relationship and create resentment and distrust instead of making a trusting, supportive relationship.
Part of growing up is also learning that you won’t always get praised and appreciated. So, it’s important to learn to praise yourself and feel satisfaction without hearing it from others.
What Is Seeking Negative Attention?
Seeking negative attention is when a child does something bad on purpose to try to get into trouble. They want someone to get mad at them or to punish them. By becoming negative the child feels he is able to control the feelings of his parents.
The parent then gets drawn into a power struggle with the child, or at the very least spends lots of time trying to calm and reason with the child. Children who seek negative attention have often times figured out that when they misbehave they have control. Or, that when they misbehave they can ‘get back at’ their parents. If the parent responds as the child desires the parent to, then the parent and the child are on a level playing field; the parent is also behaving child-like.
The important thing to remember about all inappropriate attention seeking is that the behavior is a lie. Each is an attempt to manipulate another person’s feelings and actions which is the means for failed relationships and disconnection from family. Also, seeking negative attention can be very addicting! Break the habit as quickly as possible by calmly, consistently treating this behavior just like you would any other negative behavior in your home.
Crying should never be a game. Good honest communication is always best. If Porter knows that, and I know that, then we can better love and support each other through the challenges of each day. Praising children for their efforts to help you and the family is the best way I know of to keep children content with honest family relationship building.
So, praise each other more. The experience above was a great reminder to me of that lesson.