Updated: Mar 21, 2022
Every parent knows children misbehave when they want attention and aren't getting it the nice way. My dogs do it. Your cat does it. This is old news.
We tend to forget that adults also misbehave for attention, some more than others as a result of their childhood experiences. That may be the only way they know how to get attention. Everyone has a need to be seen, heard, and cared for. It may be hard to imagine growing up with caregivers who ignore their children, but this is a sad reality for many kids. When we see children screaming in public over something trivial or acting in dangerous ways to get attention, it's a safe bet they are rarely acknowledged for being "good." There is always an explanation for someone's behavior, even if we never know the source. Finding compassion for what we don't understand is essential to being a caring person. As compassionate people, we extend forgiveness to ourselves and our loved ones and live a less reactive, more peaceful life.
I was horrified to watch my big white fluffy dog, Mishka, walk through the stinky mud pit at the dog park and then full-body roll in it. I cried out, "No, Mishka, no, don't do it!" She looked over her shoulder, wiggled her behind, and proceeded to do it anyway. Classic. Well, I was properly outraged, of course! I did not take her back to the park for several weeks, but when I finally did, I turned my back and walked away whenever she went near the mud. Result? She has not gone in it since. She followed me away, consistently, every single time. Why? Because she wanted my attention more than the joys of mud pit rolling. I learned my lesson, and now I consciously lavish praise and encouragement on my clean girl instead.
When we feel like we are getting pulled into someone's attention-getting drama, we should check our reaction. Am I adding to the problem or helping? Knowing when to intervene and when to ignore bad behavior is a decision we need to make consciously, with compassion.
Ask: Where in my life is someone behaving badly to get my attention? Do I want to reward that behavior by reacting? Or do I recognize this person is expressing a need? Perhaps I can remain calm, ignore the bad behavior and give more positive attention later to establish a better pattern for our relationship.
Go deeper, Ask: When do I misbehave to get someone's attention? What do I really want?
Obviously, in an emergency, call 911 or otherwise seek professional help.
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