One of our basic human needs is to feel a sense of belonging. Children and adults often behave in ways to have this need met. For children, receiving attention is an indication that they belong. This situation means that children need to know that they can ask for the attention they need. They also need to learn how to get attention in different ways and from a variety of people.
For parents, this need may at times create a sticky situation. Children need attention whether or not it is convenient. If attention is not given, many children will opt for negative attention rather than being ignored. When children need your attention, they will get it.
It will be helpful then as the parent to decide ahead of time how you want your child to ask for attention and to work at teaching your child what will work for you and in your family. Some of that teaching will occur with words and some with actions. If you want your son to ask you for a hug rather than poke his sibling, for example, you will need to explain that to him. Then you will need to stop what you are doing to give him a hug if he does ask.
You can also simply give your child random bits of attention to feed his or her need to feel the sense of belonging. Small slices of time engaged with your child give the message that he or she is important to you, and those little bits of time will help your child feel special and connected.
Here are a few ideas for how you might give your child attention:
Blow a kiss, sing together, give a hug, smile, tie a shoe, hold a hand, give a loving gaze, play catch with a ball, bake together, work in the garden together, make up a tongue twister together, fix a toy, rub a back, let him or her choose the music on the radio—and turn it up loud if requested, and tell your child that he or she is special to you over and over again.