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Bullies & Children Acting Out: The Rebellion of Attention Seeking Disorder

Attention seeking is a normal behavior in all children. From birth, children seek the attention and love of their parents or caregivers. It is important for emotional growth and the development of interpersonal relationship skills. However, studies show that when children don’t get adequate attention, the brain may rewire itself to respond differently to stimuli, and the world, in a way that can cause extreme attention seeking behaviors. In other words, neglect during early childhood years can result in attention seeking disorder. Often, children seek attention excessively in an attempt to avoid feelings of loneliness and abandonment. The intense desire to be the center of attention can manifest in several types of behavior. Children may act in ways that are considered “goofy,” by being the class clown, or they might over-dramatize things, always play “the victim,” or act out in aggressive ways against self or through bullying others. Their goal in each situation is to get attention, whether positive or negative. When bullying manifests, it can mean that both attention seeking disorder and another personality disorder are present. Attention seeking is a primary component of several personality disorders. The most common of these are Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD), and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

Why Bullying?

Often, children who suffer from attention seeking disorder and participate in bullying have a BPD or HD. Children who suffer from either, tend to display aggressive behaviors that are focused toward others, rather than toward themselves (i.e., self-harm). The attention seeker creates a stress situation for another person, causing trauma and suffering through bullying behavior. Next, he or she gets attention through the laughter, approval and even disproval of onlookers, including peers and authority figures. Lastly, the bully gets attention from the parents. Throughout the event, attention comes from many sources and could potentially last hours or days, depending on the level and frequency of bullying. It doesn’t matter to the bully if the attention is positive or negative. From this point, the attention seeker can also switch from bully to “drama queen,” or even victim themselves; each stage bringing another level of attention. A 2007 study showed that, per parent reports, about 15% of American Children — nearly 64,000 children between the ages of 6 and 17 — had engaged in bullying behavior. The report also revealed that children suffering from mental health disorders were 3 times more likely to behave as bullies than those that did not have a mental health issue. And those with ODD were 6 times as likely as children with any other disorder, to behave as bullies. Thus, a mental health disorder is a major risk factor for potential bullying behavior, regardless of the type of disorder. This does not mean that all bullies have mental health issues. But if a child is suffering from a mental health issue, they are far more likely to participate in bullying.

Managing Attention Seeking Disorder

When attempting to manage your child’s attention seeking disorder, try to give them as much attention when they are not displaying any unwanted behaviors, so as not to reinforce those behaviors. The idea is to reinforce their positive behaviors, and ignore their negative behaviors—but don’t ignore the child. Set aside time to spend with your child and follow through on that commitment. Like many parents, you may be busy with work and various other responsibilities, but spending time with your child could be as easy as involving them in your daily tasks. Have him or her help you with chores like laundry, dishes or cooking dinner, so that you do these activities together. You can complete your tasks while spending time with your child. During these activities, make sure they engage with you and also learn some important life skills that will be useful later. In the event your child also has a personality disorder, or is engaging in bullying, it is important to speak with your child about this and also consult with a mental health professional.   Sources: – Association Between Mental Health Disorders and Bullying In the United States Among Children Aged 6 to 17 Years – Excessive Attention Seeking and Drama Addiction – Investigation of the clinical functioning of the Attention Seeking of the Dimensional Clinical Personality Inventory

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