Hugs and kisses confirm to the silly 2-year-old that he is, indeed, something very, very special. Of course, he remembers this and next time he needs to feel special again, he quickly retreats to his bag of tricks which brings the attention that he desires. He does this without apologies, much less asking permission.
Why? Because buried deep within every 2-year-old is the awareness that attention is something he needs. It’s not a luxury. It’s essential for optimum survival. Without a steady amount of positive attention, the child will suffer. Of course, he will continue to “grow.” But something deep down within him will wither if attention is not given. He understands this and makes every attempt possible to assure that will not happen.
As easy as it is to acknowledge that a 2-year-old needs plenty of attention, it is equally as hard for most of us to openly admit that we need attention, too. Because the toddler demands attention without apology, he is likely to get all that he needs. But as we grow older, we find it increasingly difficult to ask for the attention that we need. We are embarrassed, somehow believing that we should be past that cute little 2-year-old stage. After all, we’re not 2-years-olds! We don’t need to do ridiculous things to win applause or a hug or a special kiss.
Truth is, we all need attention. It doesn’t matter if we are 2 or 99. Hardly a day goes by that we don’t need a little attention to continue to thrive. One of the hardest realities of life is to end up in a nursing home, alone in an isolated bed, with no one coming to visit.
I once talked with a 96-year-old woman who had been in a nursing home for years. Her own family had not bothered to visit in more than two years. As she talked and I looked beyond her wrinkled skin and crippled body, into her still-beautiful brown eyes, I saw that 2-year-old within her yearning, crying, screaming, for attention.
If she could, maybe she would have even done something really cute to make others notice. But she couldn’t, and there wasn’t a family member sensitive enough or generous enough to meet her needs. So she settled for the attention of an occasional visit from the nursing home staff or someone from a nearby church.
Rather than ask directly for attention, many will go to extreme lengths to gain attention. With multiple body piercings, tattoos, blue, green or red hair, some decorate their bodies. Others take drugs or abuse alcohol to be noticed. Still others attempt to gain center stage by becoming domineering, judgmental or critical. Many seek attention through attempts to gain power in organizations such as clubs, church, or where they work.
Why? Attention! Anything is better than being unnoticed and most of us will go to any extent to make sure we are not ignored.
The best way to get attention is to be direct. Just admit it — kind of like the 2-year-old. You really don’t have to paint or pierce your body, drink or take drugs or develop an attitude. Tell those you love that you need a steady diet of good attention. If they are unwilling to give it, then find a new audience.