Connection Seeking Not Attention Seeking

The phrase “attention seeking” gets a bad rap. We hear “attention seeking” and think of vindictive or manipulative behaviors, particularly in children. We think that this means that the behavior the person is doing should be ignored or minimized. But what if we shifted our perspectives to look at behaviors as “connection seeking?” We all need connection. This feels normalized. This feels like part of the human experience. If we look at things this way, it can be an automatic response of “well, of course a child wants to feel connected.” If we could all take part in this paradigm shift, perhaps we can practice more compassion to others, particularly when they are engaging in connection seeking behaviors.

So how do we connect when our child within, or our literal children, feel disconnected? Children can feel disconnected for a variety of reasons, such as not feeling heard, not feeling special, not feeling seen, not feeling prioritized. We tend to minimize the needs and desires of children, literal and figurative.

I am passionate about working with children and adolescents, and I enjoy doing inner child work with adults. When we view connection seeking behaviors from the lens of a child, it seems natural that a child wants to have their need for connection to be met. How do we connect with children? Quality time, curiosity, bonding, physical affection. So how can we nourish our inner children by meeting our needs for connection?

  • Do something that you loved to do, or would have loved to do, as a child.
  • Listen to music that was popular during a younger time of your life.
  • Play a game or watch an episode of a show or a movie you loved as a child.
  • Write a letter to your inner child to show an interest in something that they loved.
  • Eat your favorite snack or meal that you loved as a child
  • Ask your inner child to write or draw about a difficult memory and attempt to practice putting yourself in the shoes of your child within to see things from their perspective, not your adult perspective

If you have children in your life and want to discover more ways to form connections with them, here are some ideas on how to make that happen while fostering creativity and feeling heard:

  • Play a game together without screens like a board game or a game involving being outside
  • Tell stories of when you were their same age or of your family’s heritage or culture
  • Cook or bake together
  • Finger paint, color, draw, or create another form of art together
  • Do DIY projects together and let them take the lead
  • Show an interest in something that is interesting to them by asking them to explain it to you
  • Ask them to show you their favorite song, tv show or YouTube channel
  • Read a story together or write a story together

The most important connection building activity to do with a child is to express genuine curiosity and interest and listen with the intent to understand their experience versus teach. Spend this quality time together without distractions, with screens off, with the focus being on giving undivided attention and connection to the child.

Alejandra Rose, LMFT


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