The Power of Negative Attention

What to do when someone is acting badly to get your attention

If you have a child, you know that when you ignore them, like say – you are on an important telephone call, your child will try politely to get your attention and then turn to ever more drastic measures to get your attention. this is the power of negative attention.

The same thing happens with animals. Most of the time when someone comes to me with an animal behavior problem or a child behavior problem, they don’t realize that they have been positively reinforcing the negative behavior they don’t want. They don’t realize that they themselves are the problem, not their child or animal

If you want to encourage good behavior, you have to catch the animal, or your child, doing something good in the moment and reward them for the good thing they just did. the more you do this, the better their behavior comes.

If you ignore them except when they are bad, you perpetuate the bad behavior. Why? Because even negative attention is better than being ignored!

Check out this article from Counselling Resources on The Power of Negative Attention: 

You will notice the author, Gordon Shippey, talks about the same operant conditioning dynamics I teach in my bullying book and in my humanistic parenting and management programs. He talks about extinction bursts and “ignoring” problem behavior.

But he also brings up a really important point, which is that completing the extinction protocol is REALLY hard to do. It’s much easier to train up the good behavior you want and reward the positive behavior you do want than to extinguish the bad behavior you don’t want. Both require you to control your own behavior and responses so that you can catch people being good so that you can reward them.

Don’t underestimate how much behavior, good and bad, is done just to get attention. If you want to encourage positive attention seeking behavior, you have to become more responsive to your child’s attempts to get your attention and reward them with your attention instead of forcing them to become little monsters before you give them your time.

Be present. You and your child will be happier.

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