The Good, the Bad and the Irritating: A Practical Approach for Parents of Children Who are Attention Seeking


Dr Nigel Mellor

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    For Eric


    My heartfelt appreciation is offered to all those parents described in these pages who worked so hard for their children.

    Warm thanks is extended to innumerable colleagues and friends who helped check the manuscript, and who, over many years, gave such excellent advice. Particular credit must go to the editors at Lucky Duck and our creative cartoonist.

    Extra special gratitude is due to my late colleague Eric Harvey who originally developed this approach to working with families. Without the example of his extraordinary skills, this book would never have been conceived. I owe him a great deal.

  • Summary

    • The main breakthrough you have to make is inside your own head. To see the pattern behind the bewildering array of misbehaviours your child displays. To see these as attention seeking.
    • The next major step is to not heap guilt on yourself and worry about the past. That's water under the bridge. You can't turn the clock back. You did what you felt you had to do, in the way you understood it, with as much strength as you had at that time. Let it go.
    • Resolve to start a new approach today. Don't put it off. It won't get any easier.
    • You must focus on both “blades” of the approach: deal with the misbehaviour and the good behaviour together. Both of these need a very carefully thought-out strategy.
    • Remember that things can get worse. But that means the approach is beginning to work.
    • Try to carry out your own trouble-shooting. Scan back over the last few weeks. The commonest stumbling block is lack of praise. But don't forget the team-work needed for punishment and ignoring.
    • Don't lose sight of the very positive side of your child. It will start to come through. Attention seeking children are, at the end of the day, some of our most intelligent and engaging people.
    • Finally: be kind to yourself.

    Appendix: Case Studies

    The children described in this appendix were drawn from the hundreds of families who sought help from the school psychological service where I was employed a few years ago. I learned a great deal there, working with my late colleague Eric Harvey, a very experienced, highly original and extraordinarily successful, family case worker. The families described below were all interviewed by Eric; they, and I, owe him a great deal.

    The schools at that time were mainly organised as infant schools (up to year 2) and juniors (up to year 6), with high schools from year 7. Schools asked for help with (i.e. “referred”) these children because of their behaviour in class - behaviour which became recognised as driven by a need to gain attention. Of course we had our “failures.” While we can learn much from such failures, I have selected these twelve examples to show what can be achieved with children who are desperate to be the centre of attention; and the confusing difficulties these behaviours cause for parents.

    Schools, usually in the shape of the head teacher or special needs coordinator, generally referred children to us, with parents agreement, after a preliminary discussion. These initial discussions were designed to rule out some of the more obvious explanations, and to try out some simple approaches in class. The case notes which follow, concentrate on the most relevant part of the work for this account: the detailed parent interviews. Other aspects of the interventions, such as individual assessments of the children, to rule out learning difficulties for instance, and discussions with the schools about programmes to follow in class, are not included.

    In every case described in this appendix, the children had two parents living at home. This is not to deny the difficulties that single parents have, but to underline the importance of the particular problems which arise when two carers adopt different standards. Some examples of single parents, with or without new relationships, are included earlier in the book. This focus on two adults is because arguments between parents are one of the most important barriers to overcome in working with families.

    However, I take my hat off to those single mums (and occasionally dads) who can carry out programmes such as this without the emotional support of a partner. The same basic rules apply, it's just that much harder!

    Each of the twelve families had one long initial interview then a follow-up interview, usually 6–10 weeks after. In a number of cases, one or two extra discussions were included later. The main ideas of the approach, however, were explored in those first two meetings. The families were then contacted between two to five years after the first interview, for long term follow-up of the effectiveness of the programmes.

    Do not feel that you have to read all of these examples. Dip into those that seem interesting to you. I have not given full details of the programme for each family, broadly, however, parents followed the advice given in the earlier sections of this book.

    Just to emphasise, the cases have been selected to try to show the range of problems that can occur and that behaviour can change. However, every family's circumstances are different and even so-called “experts” can have difficulties dealing with their own children. So don't lose heart.

    Further Reading and References

    There are very few books which concentrate on attention seeking at home. M.Balson's“Becoming a better parent” (published by Hodder and Stoughton1987) provides some suggestions.
    Attention seeking in school, practical approaches to it and some of the theory behind the problem, is covered in detail in my previous book “Attention seeking: a practical solution for the classroom” (published by Lucky Duck, 1997).
    Excellent texts for parents which look at behaviour management generally, include C.Green's“Toddler Taming” (published by Century, 1987), “Label with care” by T.Bliss (published by LuckyDuck, 1998) and “Help! I've got a kid!” by W.Bartz and R.Rasor (published by Exley, 1987).
    “Behaviour can Change” by E.V.S.Westmacott and R.J.Cameron for more on “Fuzzies.” (published by MacMillan1981).
    ADHD can be explored in “Understanding attention deficit disorder” by C.Green and K.Chee (published by Vermillion, 1995) or “The ADHD handbook“ by A.Munden and J.Arcelus (published by JessicaKingsley, 1999).
    Two books which are very critical of the use of Ritalin for ADHD are “Toxic psychiatry” by P.Breggin (published by Harper Collins, 1991) and “Ritalin Nation” by R.DeGrandpre (published by W.W.Norton, 1999).
    For problem solving and conflict resolution ideas see “Parent Effectiveness” (published by Plume Books, 1975) and “Teaching Children Self Discipline” (published by Times Books, New York, 1989) both by ThomasGordon.
    Other books mentioned in the text, which are aimed mainly at professionals, are:
    R.Morgan“Behavioural Treatments with Children” (published by William Heinemann Medical Books Ltd., 1984).
    G.W.LaVigna and A.M.Donnellan“Alternatives to Punishment” (published by Irvington publishers, 1986).
    C.Webster-Stratton and M.Herbert“Troubled Families - Problem Children” (published by Chichester, 1994).
    Some of these books may be out of print by now, but library copies may be available.
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