“She’s not attention seeking, she’s attachment seeking.”
My oldest gave me the laundry list of offenses her little sister had committed while I was out. From intentionally knocking over a sibling’s tower to ignoring & imitating & interrupting & correcting everyone.
I decided on a different approach than “let it go” to address her commiserations. I decided on “Attachment Theory For Teenagers.” I walked her through the attachment cycle—how when babies need something, they cry, their mom responds to the cry and meets the need, and they learn trust. Then I reminded her that her sister didn’t have this. I explained how being neglected when you’re a baby can change the way you think and feel forever. That her brain and body may not know that someone will take care of her, that she may always feel like she needs to work extra hard to get our attention to make sure we do.
We were driving, so I didn’t notice at first. Tears were streaming down her face. For the first time, she understood that her sister isn’t just chronically annoying—which, let’s be honest, sometimes she is—but that she has this deep need, that started before we ever met her, that was driving her still.
She blubbered about being a bad sister (she’s not) and feeling so sad for her sister. I was grateful for her perspective shift, but I was also just glad to be reminded myself.
It’s easy to have sympathy when a child is sad or scared or suffering. But when they’re just basically “annoying?” It can be so hard to have compassion on this “attention seeking.” That’s when I have to remind myself what I explained to my ten year old: She’s not attention seeking, she’s attachment seeking.