5 Year Old Starving for Attention

Updated on August 04, 2009
K.B. asks from Santee, CA
15 answers

Hi moms! I need some suggestions or insight on what to do about my daughter's behavior. She is 5 years old and she is a wonderful caring little girl, but seems to have a problem with being EXTREMELY needy for attention. I know that's not abnormal behavior for a 5 year old, but she acts like she NEVER gets our attention. She acts out in front of other kids, teachers, family, friends and even strangers in order to get there attention. She is always saying, "look at me, watch me" to everyone in earshot and is constantly very loud and excessively goofy in order to get more eyes on her. She has a naturally silly personality and I do not want to stifle that by any means, but it is getting to the point now where she goes too far and gets herself in trouble and we worry about how open she is with strangers.

We are a very busy family, her father and I both work full time to make ends meet, but we give her our attention as much as we can spare it. We try to do an activity with her after work and spend some quality time every day, but between cooking dinner, bath time and getting ready for bed, there is not much time in between. We take her places and do fun things on the weekends together, but she is still starving for attention. It makes me feel like a bad parent, like I should quit my job or go part time to have more time to spend with her, but that's just not a possibility right now.

Anyone have suggestions on how to deal with or discipline this behavior?

3 moms found this helpful

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answers from Los Angeles on

The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman. This book will be a true guide for you for years to come. They have it for couples, teens etc. WONDERFUL book. You can pick up an used one for a couple bucks.

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answers from Los Angeles on


My son is younger, but I know that there are days that I get home from work and I let my busy day intrude on family time. I know because those are the days when my son acts up to get my attention. Kids can feel our tension and feed off of it and even emmulate it.

First rule I have made for myself, I leave work at the door or at least until my son is in bed and asleep. Once I get home I spend about 20-30 minutes just hanging out with my son. We talk about his day and what he did, whether he was at school or with his Dad.

Second rule, while making dinner give my son tasks to help with so he feels like a 'big boy'. I have him mix stuff or get things from the fridge for me. Or he picks music for us to listen to. I try to prep meals in advance, so I do things like make a lot of pasta or rice or soup or fix things that are easy like casseroles or crock pot. Make it simple so you have more time.

Third rule, dinner is fun and relaxing. We all sit (well at least the adults do) together and eat for about 30 minutes. The focus is not on the food, but on the people around the table.

You don't have to plan activities during the week, but once all is said and done maybe do a puzzle together or play game. You don't have to quit your job, just find a way to make the time you spend with her focused on bonding as family. Talk to her and tell her she's number one in your book no matter what. You aren't a bad parent, you're just working on doing the best you can and sometimes we have to take a step back and make small changes to show our kids that we are there no matter how crazy and out of control life feels.

She knows you love her, and maybe it's just her personality but give it a shot and see what happens. Good luck!!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

I have a girl, now almost 7 years old... and I went through that too.

Try getting the book "Your 5 Year Old" or, "Your 6 Year Old" from www.amazon.com
It is enlightening and about what a child is like at each age juncture.

Girls, alas, are more emotional... my girl goes through that "attention, look at me" thing too... but I have learned, it happens mostly when she is undergoing a change in age set, or developmental changes. Their emotional AND intellectual development changes too... and even a typically confident child, can get "needy" and/or needing more attention/confirmation of themselves.
Its normal. Though not easy.

It is not humanely possible to spend EVERY SINGLE minute giving them quality time. And, even if you do... that does not mean it will "cure" the moment either.

We mostly, give our girl "coping skills" per her moods or needs... if she is frustrated/fussy/needy... we direct her/navigate her to "What else can you do? Hey, how about doing your craft kit???" Then we get her "distracted" with something else. AND, we also talk WITH her directly, telling her we love her, that we all need attention even adults, that some days are harder than others... but we are all a TEAM... and we help each other. Then engage her in other things... either jointly or an independent activity, BUT in the SAME room as us. So she feels "included."

We also teach her that everyone in a family has a "job"... Mommy has her chores, and Daddy too... and her "job" is to do hers... like "practicing" her activities by herself or allowing Mommy a moment to cook dinner because we all contribute to things for the family... then I put things on the dinner table while I cook, so she can entertain herself by herself.... while I cook, for example. That is her "job."
Just get creative.

Also teach her about feeling good about herself and not "needing" others to validate her. My girl at least, is good about that. She always says "I'm myself..." and she knows what is 'good' or 'bad' and can read people & will steer away from adults/kids that have a bad vibe about them.... thus, she has good instincts about "danger." It has to be taught as well... so that they, as a child, can learn "discernment" versus just needing "attention" for feeling good. Teach your girl perhaps, about healthy 'reasons' for needing attention, versus just out of boredom, for example. AND, teach her about her feelings.... so she can gradually learn about herself and others...
She may be young to understand it completely... but just exposure to "ideas" about it, will over time, give them knowledge and a good foundation about it.
My girl for example will say things like "Mary always likes attention at school, but she does it because she likes to be #1 all the time. If other kids get attention, she gets irritated & sassy..." And, she is right about this kid. Even her Teacher has to manage this child as such. So.. .it is also about countering their need for attention, with teaching them skills about how to manage situations.... and know themselves.

Its a phase. It will pass. BUT, going from 5 years old to 6 years old... is a big jump, emotionally/intellectually/cognitively. I witnessed that myself in my girl... and her classmates of the same age. MANY Moms told me the SAME thing about their daughters. :)
So don't feel alone in it.

My girl now, at almost 7 years old... is going through it now, again.... but with a different twist to it... she "compares" more in terms of attention between herself and her brother (whom she loves dearly), but their "self-esteem" is "changing" too at this age... in relation to the world and where they fit in it.... so its a complex mix. We just giver her understanding... its not easy and is growing-pains, as well, for the child.

Mostly, do NOT punish/scold her for anything that she can't help or control herself with yet... they are not perfect or adept and sometimes do not even know why they feel that way. All a part of childhood. Its okay. But tries our patience. But we need to be there for them.

Heck, even women on PMS get "moody" and needy, right? Well, same for a little girl. Their "hormones" is changing too.

**And YES... she is old enough to be taught about "stranger danger" and HER behavior. In this day and age, it is very important. We have done that with my daughter from an even younger age. We even taught her about how to sit with her legs crossed, so that her panties are not visible to strangers looking, for example. You NEED to teach kids this. Even your Husband, should, along with you, talk with your girl about it. We also taught our girl about self-defense and what to do in situations. We act-it out with her, and do pretend scenarios with her. They need to "practice."

Oh, also, perhaps she needs an 'outlet.' Maybe she'd enjoy Theater classes for kids? The performing arts is real great for kids, and may satisfy her need for "attention" or always acting up/goofing around in front of others.????

All the best,

3 moms found this helpful


answers from San Diego on

You've gotten some *FANTASTIC* advice...so I won't repeat any of it. :)

Here are the three things we've learned:

1) I don't let my husband come straight home from work.

The problem with coming straight home from work is that EVERYONE needs to destress for a little bit...even if it's just 15 minutes...and small children don't get that. They get how happy they are to see their parent, and they mob them. Even if it's a house rule that everyone gets x amount of time after they come home...even if their faces don't fall...they get this excitement build up, gain control over themselves, get involved with something else and it's like that parent has just missed the boat.

Which I know, because we DID have a 15 minute rule. Hugs, and then 15-30 minutes. It seemed to work great. Until a company merger, and extra stress, and I started sending my husband to the coffee shop around the corner (so he "nearly" came home, just 2 minutes away...but didn't walk through the doors until after he'd had some private time). Some days he'd take 15 minutes, some days he'd take an hour...but BOY the difference. He came home in "Dad" mode, not "Coming home from work" mode. The relationship between his son and himself...TOTALLY changed. It was amazing.

2) DON'T accept lousy, bossy, disrespectful behavior out of guilt.

Two of our closest friends do this with their 5 year old and always have. Their son has AMAZING daytime care (great school, killer au pair, outtings, activities, playdates...you name it. Yet when they come home it's like he's been in a concentration camp all day, or has just become an amputee. They are at his beck and call. He sits in one place and SCREAMS for water, for a DVD, for them to play "x" game, for more water, for them to a,b,c,d,e,f,g...Screams it. Throws fits. Is down and out mean, rude, violent -will come up and pummel them with his fists if they even say "in just a minute, I'm _____". Yet there they are, running, apologizing, erratically disciplining (telling him to say please for 1 demand in 30...but bringing him object of his desires as they're telling him to say please, he doesn't even have to say it that ONE time...much less ask in a nice tone of voice -much less a piercing shriek- or heaven forbid walk into the kitchen and get his own durn glass of water).

<laughing> Ay-yi-yi. I just reread that. The stress just comes pouring off of that doesn't it?

I've watched this child for 6 months, 9 hours a day, while they were in between au pairs last year. He tried these same stunts with me. Took about two weeks before he was loving and delightful 90% of the time. I swear to gawd...the first time he screamed while upstairs playing with my son...I figured he'd just broken all of his fingers in the sliding glass door...or that my son had fallen out the window. Turned out he wanted a Kleenex. Literally. A KLEENEX. When there was a box of them next to my son's bed four feet from him. The next scream was for water. The next one was that he didn't want crusts on his sandwich (I'd asked him earlier, but he. had. changed. his. mind.)

Talking with his other caregivers (except his parents, I KNOW he does this with his parents, not only because I'm frequently over there...and that he'd turn 180 the moment they sowed up after work when I was watching him...but also because they periodically complain or act surprised when other kids DON'T act the way theirs does), he pulls the same stunts with all of them. None of them were willing to put up with it. And after a couple weeks, he got that. None of us were mean, some punished...I didn't (although he was in absolute tears a few times & horrifically offended when I laughed and pointed out those "things on the end of your legs? What are those??? Not FEET are they?" He got tons of love and attention from ALL of us, but he's not allowed to be mean/disrespectful/or bossy.

But his parents feel this massive guilt for not being there...so that's how he treats them, like a little tyrant, because they let him. They also immediately focus on the negative if he's telling them about his day. EX) Asking if something was boring, instead of fun...or if the other kids were mean instead of nice...but that's another issue.

3) Some kids are natural performers. Giving them specific outlets, and showing them how even windexing a window can be a performance can help.

My son is one (heaven help me...but his dad is a performing musician, so I guess he comes by it honestly). So he gets lots of opportunity to. Not only does he do drama camps and the like (where he actually gets to be up on stage with lights and an audience)...but we also do weekly Thursday night show'n'tells with his dad so that he can show him the cool stuff he's been working on...we have dancing time in the kitchen while we clean..."look at me!" time (park/bike/skateboard/swimming/whatever...time and space where he's showing off...or our eyes are locked on him -ahem, out of fear of his imminent death mostly, but he doesn't need to know that-)...have converted one wall in our kitchen to display all of his artwork...have portfolios for his works so that he can grab them and show people. Just little everyday things, and regular weekly or quarterly things, where our attention is solidly ON him. We ALSO have time where our attention is dispersed or focused on something else entirely...and allow him to do things -like work with sharp knives under guidance- that teach him about how sometimes people need to have their attention elsewhere.

Anyhow...good thing I didn't start off on the amaaaazing advice you've already gotten...or we'd still be reading 10 minutes from now. ;)

Good Luck

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

I love the advice you've received so far. One other thought would be to maybe do a little more analyzing of where she spends her days while away from you. Is it a large group where she always feels the need to compete? Do the care givers really respect her need to have some positive attention or do they consistently resist it? Maybe once school gains way you need to reevaluate the atmosphere she goes into after the hours in a large classroom. I've known several large families over the years and many of the kids have come over to me at whatever opportunity they can find and proceed to "talk my ear off" so to speak. I usually let them and I think that's been a great thing for them.
I like the old saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Besides following the other advice be sure to assess the village around you. Just one or two other patient ears might make a big difference over time.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Reno on

I am a full time, stay at home mom, I now homeschool my youngest 2, but two out of my 4 kids were attention hogs like your daughter. The other two are quiet and avoid the spotlight. It's not how you're raising her, it's just part of her personality. My attention seekers are my second born and my fourth, so birth order doesn't affect it much.

My son, one of the quiet ones, is now 14, and when we're in public he's constantly deeply embarrassed by his 10 year old sister and her loud, shrill, often immature "look at me!" antics. My 21 year old, as an adult, is able to recognize that she won't always be the center of attention. Still, she'd love for life to be "all about me," and is fiercely competetive, so around family and close friends she still sometimes says, "Hey, pay attention to me!" A girlfriend of mine is in her 40s, and still unhappy if she's not the center of attention.

I wish I could give you wonderful strategies to reduce this behavior, but you've probably already discovered that trying to get an attention hog to tone it down makes them very anxious; it's as if they feel they'll disappear if they aren't in the spotlight all the time. And, they equate attention with love.

All you can really do is enforce rules about manners, ie: no yelling in restaurants, no interrupting conversations. Then point out how much people admire someone else's good manners, and really, really reinforce the idea that being quiet and polite gets noticed, especially by adults. But, realize that she came with this personality and it will always be a part of her, so this is HER battle to fight, not yours. As she gets older, she'll have to make her own choices about things like whether she wants to truly connect with the people at her table in a restaurant, or if she wants to draw the stares of every other table.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on


and in it, there is something called the PERFORMING DISPOSITION. My 9 yr old is like this. He loves to perform. The book will give you insight and tips on how to handle this. There was a child in my son's class (also known as "the class clown") who was far worse (my son, thankfully, never had a problem with self-control) and was ALWAYS getting into trouble at school. It was sad.

I am a SAHM and it used to really be draining... he is also very social and NEEDS to be around people... so he was always whining for playdates for needing me. But when I DID pay some good, full attention, that did help to alleviate it. So instead of telling yourself "i'm exhausted, there is too much to do, blah, blah, blah" (I speak from experience, not judgment) try to change your thinking to make room for her.

There is another good book called PARENTING THE SPIRITED CHILD by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
that is ESSENTIAL for understanding "spirited" children. It's an awesome, eye-opening book.

I learned the difference between Introverts (my son is not one, he is not the kid who wants to spend most of his time alone, who needs to be alone to feel centered) and Extroverts (ding, ding, ding!).

These books will go a lot further in explaining stuff and offering suggestions than any quickie posting. :)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Diego on

Maybe while you are home, you can interact with her as much as possible. Is she your only child? You can involve her in things such as cooking, housework, shopping, etc. Do any many things with her as you can. Play games with her, do homework with her. Sit at the table with her while she is doing homework and you can get bills paid, correspondence done, etc. It may just be that she is outgoing and attention seeking, even though you are paying her attention at home. Be sure to monitor her interaction with strangers. Don't feel guilty about having to work. Even if you stayed home with her, she would likely be in Kindergarten while you are home. Just keep spending 1:1 time with her as much as possible and reinforce concepts like Stranger danger.

Best of luck

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Reno on

Hi K.,

When my son went through a tough patch, we started two bedtime games that might help you. The first was called "popcorn." He would say "popcorn" and I would tickle him until he said "stop popcorn." It was goofy and nonsensical and we wound up laughing until we cried.

After playing "popcorn" we would do "snuggle bunny." I would gather my son into my arms and whisper in his ear how much I loved him, all the great things he did that day, and all his wonderful characteristics. Then, I would tuck him in, knowing he would drift off to sleep happy and well loved.

Maybe popcorn and snuggle bunny (you can rename them anything you want) would work for you and your daughter. Those 10-15 minutes before bed made a huge difference for my son.

Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Dear K.,

I understand your frustration. As a parent coach, I can tell you that this is a very common challenge for parents. Below is a link to an article I wrote that might be of some help to you. Feel free to contact me if I can be of further assistance.


Be well,
G. B., M.A
Child Development Specialist & Parent Educator

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

I have taught preschool and kindergarten for a number of years and many children constantly say look at me. If you feel she is not getting enough attention do you have grandma or grandpa near by? MY kids are amazing to my parents and can do no wrong. My parents love watching them show off and they never ever have to say look at me. Also preteen girls are great to have around too. Get a mommy's helper to go with you to the park or just over for play and they will really step up. My preteen daughter loves to cook with her younger siblings and play board games. She also makes sure no one cheats and everyone plays by the rules.

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answers from Las Vegas on

Hi K.,
you are doing a good job. Many of us have baggage and feel we got the short end of the stick and never realize how good we really had it until much later in life. I don't think that is something you as a parent can teach, I think as an individual, we have to feel it and we often don't feel it for our selves until we actually FEEL someone else's pains.

Keep up your good work and she will know you were a good hard working parents.



answers from Los Angeles on

Hi K.,
My son is 6 and an only child also. I work full time and my husband works freelance so sometimes he's home, sometimes he's working. I do give my son my full attention when I get home and on the weekends. So I understand where you're coming from. I have no choice... I have to work too. I just do the best I can like you do. Your daughter may just have a personality where she needs more attention (maybe she'll be an actress). You just need to focus that need. I don't think it's something to punish her for. My son always wants my attention, not so much other people's attention. So I'm always exhausted from playing with him. Maybe your daughter will like a dance class where they can put on a show for everyone to watch. My son does karate and then helps his teacher teach the younger kids.

So I think you're doing the best you can. Maybe have your daughter help you with cooking dinner. Maybe get her into dance or karate where they help you focus your energy and develop discipline.

Or we could get our kids together so they can play and we can sit on the cough for a few mintues!

Hope this helps. Hang in there!



answers from Santa Barbara on

Hi K., Stay the course. You are doing the best you can, and that will have to be enough. I don't believe in over-scheduling kids. With that in consideration, if she's not already in one outside activity ( e.g. theater for kids, ballet/tap class, etc), that could be considered. That would provide her a fun activity where she WILL be watched. I think one outside program for that age is plenty.



answers from Los Angeles on

Totally agree about involving her in your activities. It is quality together time and she actually might help take some things off your plate! Also, are things like bedtime and bath "all business," or do you involve some fun by singing songs, talking about your day, etc.?

I don't think it is something that needs disciplining. Any specific unsafe or disrespectful behavior can be addressed as such, but it's hard to reproach a child for who she is.

Good luck, mama!

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