Demanding attention

This behaviour is seen as negative due to the compelling character and the fact that is never seems to be enough. Our negative feelings toward the behavior, costs us a lot of energy and makes it difficult to be loving towards the person. This may result in efforts to ignore the person, sending him away or even use punishment in order to change the behavior.


The compelling way of seeking your attention however, is a sign that the person really needs this attention badly, because h probably feels very insecure or fearful, and due to this stress he isn't able to wait or share the attention with others. We often see this with people with special vulnerabilities like autism and/or a very limited emotional development. There also can be psychiatric diseases which cause this extreme dependence of others.


It's important to see the underlying problem of the person, because only then we can let go our irritation over the behaviour and feel compassion for this person who feels so insecure and has no other way to cope with this then trying whatever he can to get your attention.

A team in an Activity Centre asked how you can 'do' gentle teaching with Elisabeth, a woman who is always demanding attention. The team explained that Elisabeth is 32 years old, has a mild intellectual disability and autism. As soon as Elisabeth sees caregivers coming in the room, or caregivers talking to other persons, she runs towards them and clings to them in order to get attention. The team finds this very irritating and exhausting.

The team knows that actually Elisabeth is very insecure and need a lot of confirmation that she is working good. This is what she wants to hear at least 20 times a day.

In the past they tried to ignore Elisabeth when she was asking for attention, but this had an opposite result. Now they decided not to ignore Els, but not answer her question. They talk about other issues. But this doesn't help either. She still has this attention seeking behaviour.

Start with giving what she needs

The first advice from gentle teaching is not to speak about attention seeking behaviour anymore. This doesn't do right to what is really happening, but also reinforces our negative feeling in regard to this behaviour and in regard to Elisabeth as a person.  Just say that she has a enormous need for our presence and attention. This focuses us on what we should feel and do.


Second start giving her the kind of attention she obviously need at this moment; the conformation that she is working good. (even if she isn't, that doesn't matter). By feeling her need for your attention, you can make contact with your good heart and giving her the attention she needs will not exhaust you, but give you energy and satisfaction.


By doing this, you will create peace between you and Elisabeth because you give her what she wants. But what does she need? And how can you give that to her?

For Elisabeth it will be great if you can teach her to feel more secure about herself and you, and to be able to share attention and wait if she can't get it immediately. How can you try to achieve this? What steps would we take in gentle teaching?


work on companionship

First of all we focus on deepening the feeling of companionship. We begin at the moments Elisabeth wants our attention, by not just giving her the right answer, but to give personal and warm intention. If we would just give the right answers, we would be like robots. We have to become an individual and we want our presence to become more important than the answer. We have to express our warm and loving feelings with all instruments we have: our presences, eyes, words and hands.


Besides giving Elisabeth the attention on moments she comes to us, we also try giving it in between on our own initiative. And now also we express our warm feelings and let her know that we like being with her. If it's difficult for you to feel warm and loving towards Els, reflect once and a while about how she must feel when she doesn't get the attention she needs. Would you like to stand in her shoes? By getting into her feelings, it's easier to feel loving and give her what she needs.


and finally teach her to deal with distance and waiting

When Elisabeth feels more secure and knows that she will get the attention she needs, and when she feels that your presence is more important that the correct answers to her questions, you can slowly teach her to deal with a little more distance, a little more waiting, a little more sharing with others.


It helps if you have already taught  her that  your touches are good, by giving her a hand or placing your hand on her shoulder while giving her attention. You can then start giving her just psychical attention without words for a moment, looking at another person while keeping physical contact, or ask her to wait a moment for the answer she wants.  Doing this, you use the techniques of sharing en stretching are described in the gentle teaching methodology.