Why Toddlers Need So Much Dang Attention

Baby Boy Eating. Give me it.

It’s no secret that toddlers demand a lot of attention. At best, my toddler can go about 5 minutes without trying to engage me. That’s about enough time to brush my teeth and maybe, if I’m lucky, throw my hair up in a ponytail?

While this kind of demanding behavior can be taxing, you might want to think twice before you brush off your toddler. A Concordia study published in the journal Child Development has revealed how parents respond to a toddler’s expectations is directly related to how eager that child is to collaborate and learn.

In plain terms: Toddlers who receive quality attention from their parents are better socialized and more eager to collaborate with others.

Researchers found that toddlers who try to engage their parents, and then receive quality attention from them, learn that these kind of collaborative experiences are fulfilling. As a result the toddlers are eager to engage in positive interactions.

The study points out two different types of attention-seeking behavior: high-quality and low-quality. In the first part of the study, the parent was asked to fill out a form that required a lot of attention and focus. This usually provoked attention-seeking behaviors in the toddler. Some toddlers pointed and shared objects and laughed and smiled while engaging the parent. This is considered high-quality attention-seeking behavior.

The toddlers who exhibited signs of low-quality attention-seeking behavior would cry, scream, or even take the parent’s pen and throw it across the room.

The parents who had been attentive and responsive had toddlers who showed high-quality attention-seeking behavior. The less responsive parents had children who exhibited low-quality attention-seeking behavior because the poor behavior was a direct reflection of how the child expected the parent to respond. So if the parent responds poorly, the behavior of the child will be equally as bad.

Marie-Pierre Gosselin, a PhD. candidate in the Department of Psychology at Concordia University and lead author of the study, explains “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.”

Makes sense to me!

When thinking about the kind of attention we give our toddlers, an important distinction is the concept of quality vs. quantity.

According to Gosselin, 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,” she says. 
So the next time your toddler starts climbing up your leg or tries to get in your face, take a break from what you are doing and spend some quality time, giving them the attention they deserve. The dishes, dirty laundry, and emails will just have to wait, because we all know that toddlers can’t. 
How do you handle your toddler’s demands?