Share this...

There is nothing so annoying as having two people talking when you’re busy interrupting.”

Mark Twain

One day a mother was visiting me and together we had seven children under the age of 7 for a play date.  All the children were having a great time.  That is…all of them except little Robert who was 3 years old.

We settled down at the kitchen table to have a good adult conversation, and the children went to the basement toy room to play.  Within minutes, Robert came into the kitchen and began to complain to his mother.  “Mommy, how long are we going to stay here?  I wanna’ go home!  The children aren’t sharing the toys!”  His mother said, “Robert, go have a good time honey.  We just got here.  All the other children are having a great time.  Can you hear them?  Better go see what they’re doing.”  Robert went to see.

Within about five minutes, Robert came back to the room. This time, he said, “Mommy, I don’t feel good. Can we go? I don’t wanna play here.”  His mother said, “Robert, they have those new little cars you like and tons of lego’s and they even have those transformers you really like.  We don’t have any of those at our house. Go… play…have a good time while you can!” Robert reluctantly left the room.

Over the next 45 minutes Robert was in and out of the room for one thing or another. He wanted something to drink.  He needed help in the bathroom.  He had a toy to fix.  Each time, Robert was unhappy, frustrated and unsettled.  At this point, Robert’s mother said to me, “I’m probably going to have to cut this visit short.  It’s Robert.  Every time we go anywhere, he’s always miserable and he makes me miserable. It’s just not worth it.  I keep thinking he’ll grow out of this but he’s getting worse!“

At this point I said, “You remember me telling you I was training in some new methods of parenting?” “Yes”, she said. “Well, if you would be interested, I would be happy to help you out with what I see going on with Robert today.”  Her response was, “If you can help me with Robert, I’m all ears!”  I said, “First, just follow my directions and after things change, I’ll explain why. Sound good?”  She said, “Ok.”

“When Robert comes into the room, there are several things I want you to do.  I immediately want you to think this thought, “Robert, I know you’re there and I love you.  I’m glad you’re my son.”  While you’re thinking this, keep talking with me, and whatever you do, don’t make eye contact with Robert and don’t say anything to him.  As he comes closer to you, reach over and softly rub his arm or head, without breaking your eye contact or conversation with me. Got it?”  “Yes”, she said.

As before, Robert came into the room.  He began to whine again.  His mother reached out and stroked his arm.  Robert stopped in his tracks.  As I peeked out of the corner of my eye, I saw he had a puzzled look on his face like, “What’s up with this?!”  After a short time, Robert wandered from the room looking dazed. I said to his mother, “Robert is likely to come back again.  If he does, he will get more adamant in his bid to get you to make eye contact and speak to him.  This is normal.  This is progress.  Just hold the open, loving intention, and pull him close, gently keeping your touch on him.”  She said, “Ok.”

Sure enough, within minutes Robert came back.  He had a determined look on his face.  Once again his mother reached out.  For a minute, Robert started to relax.  Then he started acting more urgent, tugging on his mom’s sleeve and getting louder and louder.  He even tried to pull his mom’s face around so she would be making eye contact.  At this point, his mother had a hint of a twinkle in her eye and looked a bit amazed.  Within a few minutes, Robert started to relax.  He stood in the comfort of his mother’s arm, and he looked from her to me, from me to her, and eventually left the room.

About 25 minutes passed and all of the sudden, Robert’s mother said, “Is that Robert laughing down there with the other children?  Robert hasn’t come in to see me in over 20 minutes.  He’s having fun!  Robert never has fun!  Robert never lets me have fun!  How did you know this would work?”  Robert’s mother was pleasantly surprised.  I explained to her that based on my feeling, her behavior and Robert’s pattern, I could see he was in the mistaken goal of “Extra Attention.” 

I then provided her with the information to shift Robert out of his mistaken idea (that he was only loved if he got extra, direct attention).  I helped her see that his behavior showed he needed more opportunities to participate in the family and to contribute.  We discussed some of the things she could do to help Robert feel more secure in the family and more encouraged to take on greater responsibility for his happiness.

I taught this to a schoolteacher once who had a student much like Robert. One day, she said to her, “Why do you think you come to my desk everyday to ask questions?” The girl said, “Because I need help.” The teacher said, “I noticed yesterday when you came to my desk and I didn’t answer your questions, (she had been redirecting) you quietly did all your work without my input. Could it be you want more attention from me?” This teacher was doing what’s called “disclosing the goal”; bringing awareness to a person who chronically uses a goal. Disclosure is done while a person is not in the negative behavior and invites empathy for the recipient of the goal as a motivator.

Next, the teacher negotiated with the student and created an agreement for reasonable attention that respected both them. Negotiating for attention ultimately reduces the need for it and it ceases relatively quickly. In this case, the teacher also looked for opportunities in which this student could gain legitimate attention through service whereby she ceased manipulating for undue attention altogether. The gift of redirecting negative behavior is you are able to meet the core needs of others while building rapport and helping them move from discouragement to encouragement. Redirect is a powerful way to lead and develop others while maintaining respect for everyone (including you) in the process.

A revised version of this article (modified in fall 2023 for parents) was originally published nationally in The Women’s Journal in the column Emotional Intelligence, December 2011.

Why People Hire LifeWork Systems

Business owners and executives, community leaders, parents, educators and individuals hire LifeWork Systems because they know that effective conditions and conversations make all the difference in building trusting relationships, achieving dreams, and creating solutions and innovations for our evolving world. When people are happy and responsible, emotionally and socially intelligent, confident, and appropriately seen, heard, and supported, they always exceed expectations. We help instill into every person common concepts, terms, tools, and processes that result in healthy, happy, caring and contributing individuals, teams and organizations. Our mission is to create a world in which all people love their lives!

We appreciate you being here on our website and encourage you to reach out to us directly at or  314.239.4727. May something we offered in this article and website help you love YOUR life ~ because YOU matter!

LifeWork Systems Logo white with transparent background

Join Our Mailing List

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.