Attention-Seeking Children Learn Better Later On

Parents, before you dismiss those constant “look at me” demands from your child, you may want to know that children who crave attention from you are most likely to learn and collaborate when they are older.
A study published in the journal Child Development is the first to show that toddlers´ expectations of how their parent will respond to their needs and bids for attention relate to the acquisition of social rules and norms later in childhood.
Lead author of the study, Marie-Pierre Gosselin, a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at Concordia University explains that, “Toddlers whose parents have consistently responded positively to their attention-seeking expect interactions to be fulfilling. As a result, they´re eager to collaborate with their parents´ attempts to socialize them.”
By observing the quality of toddlers´ attention-seeking, Gosselin and co-author David R. Forman, currently at the State University of New York at Geneseo, were able to quantify toddlers´ expectations. Scientists and caregivers have long theorized that toddlers have expectations of their parent´s behavior, however no one had provided a reliable measure of those expectations.
In the study, parents and children were put in the same room and the parent was asked to fill out a long survey with questions that required attention and focus. This usually provoked attention-seeking behaviors in the child.
Some toddlers pointed at and shared objects with their parent, laughed and smiled while talking to the parent, and used phrases like, “excuse me mommy.” This constituted high-quality behavior in the researchers´ eyes.
Low-quality attention-seeking behavior was shown by toddlers who cried, screamed, or even took the parent´s pen and threw it across the room.
Gosselin says that they expected to find that parents who had been attentive, sensitive and responsive to their child in a variety of contexts would have children who showed more positive, high-quality attention-seeking behaviors than children of less responsive parents because these behaviors reflected the child´s expectations of a parent´s response.
For the second part of the study, the child had to watch his or her parent perform a series of actions (such as, how to retrieve a ball using three specific movements) and then try to imitate them.
Gosselin found that toddlers who showed positive attention-seeking behaviors collaborated more with the parent in this task than those who showed more negative attention-seeking behaviors when the parent was busy.
The results of the study shows that it is important to encourage positive or high-quality attention-seeking in toddlers because it predicts their motivation to collaborate and participate in skill building activities.
“For parents it´s important to know that it´s not the amount of attention seeking but really the quality of attention seeking that their toddler displays that matters for their development,” says Gosselin.
Gosselin is now in the process of analyzing data on what happens when the parent is busy on the phone. She says that with the spread of cell phones it is important to see what kind of attention-seeking behaviors children resort to in this situation, how parents respond, and what are the implications for their development. She also plans to look into how toddlers seek attention from teachers and day-care workers.