Attention Seeking 4 Year Old - FamilyEducation
Attention Seeking 4 Year Old
09/07/2008 at 10:58 AM

New to the board...seeking some advise!  I'm the single mother of a 4 1/2 year old boy.  His father has never really been in the picture - I have sole legal custody.  My family has been more than supportive and my son is more than loved.  Two years ago, I moved 4 hours away from my family - my support group - for a job opportunity.  This is where we have been ever since.  This is also where I met my current boyfriend of over 2 years.  He's a wonderful guy to both me and my son - he's definately a wonderful role model who I trust 100% with my son.  About 5 months ago, we moved in together.  I know moving in the first place, then having another guy (other than my son) come into my life, then moving in together has been alot for my son to take in.  Top that with the fact that my boyfriend is a divorced father of 2 young girls that he has custody of every other day and every other weekend. 

My son is very loving and very smart; however, he seems to be having a hard time adjusting to the fact that there's other people in my life (and that he can no longer get away with murder.  My boyfriend has opened my eyes to many things that I've let "slide" - whining, getting his way, etc, my excuse being, "As a single mother who works full time, it's sometimes easier to give in than to put up a fight").  Of course, my son comes first.  Even though I work full time, tend to the house, make dinner and enjoy some "me" time once in awhile, I do my best to make the most of the time he and I have together (read books, play games, go to the park, etc).

I'm trying to break him of is his need to constantly seek attention.  We'll be sitting at the dinner table and he'll be loud or say what he thinks are "silly" things so that all eyes are on him.  Other times, he'll sit there and repeat himself over and over again (for example, saying "ouch" over and over again even though he's not hurt just so someone will come and see him).  My boyfriends 3 and 4 year old daughters and my 7 year old cousin have all said something to him about not having to repeat himself over and over again...pretty bad when his behavior annoys even young kids!  Recently, a member of my boyfriends family came to visit.  The family member was talking to one of my boyfriends daughters and my son (who has met this person maybe one other time) inturrupted their conversation and said, "I love you" to this person - because he wasn't the one being talked to (getting attention) at that moment.

By no means is my son being neglected or ignored.  He is #1 in my book and my boyfriend thinks of him as a son.  He's not pushed to the side or treated any differently than anyone else.  I want to know how to stop this "me me me" behavior.  I know that being the center of attention at this age may be normal - but not to this extent.  It's even extended into his pre-school, where he'll hit/kick other kids and teachers.  Knowing how loving and smart my son really is, I don't want him to be "that kid" that's always seeking attention (which many times becomes negative - trouble in school, bullying, etc). 

I know this whole thing was pretty long winded but I'm curious to hear from others who may be in a similar situation and suggestions for me as far as what I can do to help him see that he doesn't always have to be the center of attention.  My boyfriend and I want to see him be the smart, loving kid that we know he is.

I'm sorry I don't have answers for you, but wanted you to know you are not alone. My son is 7 and in 1st grade and has the same problem, reading the things your son does for attention and when he does it is like reading about my own son. He was 5 before my husband and I had a second child. We believe that part of his problem is his personality and part of it is an issue my husband and I helped to create by allowing him to be the center of our world. Even as a baby he never wanted to play alone. He was our first and we didn’t know any better. We are desperately seeking answers because everyone wants to classify this as attention deficit disorder. We have had him tested for this and for other behavior disorders when the preschools had problems with him. We have gone to specialist after specialist doctors and psychologists, etc. none of them have had an answer, all wanted to diagnose his “problem” and all determined he didn’t have anything “severe” enough to treat in one way or another. All of the professionals say he does not have ADD or ADHD. It is now causing problems in school and with his ability to develop friendships. His need to be the center of attention with everyone annoys his classmates and teachers. We are nervous about how to approach him and how to best teach him how to alter his behavior. We have a few relatives in our family who had similar personalities and both hit a point in their early teenage years where they rebelled in one way or another. One eventually found success in the military, and the other is a nurse, but both took a long time before they got their lives together (sometimes I think they both still struggle), and both resented their parents even though their parents likely did nothing any more wrong than we are doing. We are watching for our son to hit the point where he starts to manipulate us by saying things like – you don’t love me, you think I’m stupid, etc. We are bracing ourselves for it knowing we will have to be strong and respond with things like, I’m sorry you feel that way, but that is not what I am trying to tell you by punishing you for your bad choices. We have gone through many different attempts at different things to try to help him and figure at his age, honesty is the best answer. Don’t hide things from him or shield him from it. His punishment now when he seeks lots of attention is to deprive him of that attention and ability to be the focus of it. He is sent to his room where he is not allowed to play with any toys. If he fails to follow directions we start taking away the things he likes to play with the most and he has to earn them back. Taking a soft stance with this issue has not helped him. Unfortunately we did not know how to address this when he was younger, we couldn’t pinpoint the problem, but I don’t know what we would have done if we had known. He has never cared where the attention came from, so long as he was getting attention. Some say he has an issue with structure, but his issue is more around when there is a lack of structure. When he is given a task to do, he will do it to completion, but if you don’t immediately have something else for him to do he will choose to do something to get attention from anyone instead of playing by himself. I hope that someone out there will see these posts and have a successful story to share with us. It makes me want to call in Nanny 911 for assistance because none of the professionals we have spoken to have had answers for us (though I don’t have the desire to be on television). I don’t know that it is really a medical condition so much as it is a psychological need and maybe an issue with self confidence. I wish you the best!

Thank you for sharing, gdjq1. I have also had my son checked for attention disorders and he's been cleared as having "no problem". I really hope to turn this around before it comes a major problem!

I've often heard that when a parent's discipline techniques change, things get harder before they get easier. It's an adjustment for both parent and child. Plus w/ all the other changes in your lives, do you really think your child wld sail that smoothly through the transition? Be consistent, and stand your ground. You said your son is used to you letting things slide. Suddenly, the tables have turned. You probably haven't mastered your discipline techniques yet, and your son most likely hasn't gotten used to the fact that mommy is not letting me get away w/ certain things anymore. Of course he's going to act up and try to see what buttons he can push. It's you're job to put your foot down and remain firm. Once you've mastered that, and once your son's learned that no means no, I'm sure things will get better for all of you. Question: Does your BF ever discipline your son? If so, make sure you're both on the same page, otherwise your son will do whatever he can to manipulate you over your BF or vice versa. Good luck to all of you!

Hi I am also a single mother of a wonderfull 4 1/2 year old boy and am guilty of lavishing my attention on him when I am not working (I work full time) so I am having the same problems as you. He behaves great one on one with me but the minute another person enters the picture he starts misbehaving to get my attention, he just can't stand my giving someone else attention. Luckily I have a great boyfriend who gives him lots of attention that he loves. The trouble is with any other adult that I may be trying to have a conversation with, he starts behaving so badly its almost impossible! I don't have any answers for you but I empahtize with your situation!