Starved for Attention: How To Deal with Demanding Keiki

5 ways to stop tantrums without losing your own temper.

Photo credit: GETTY IMAGES

Most of us have encountered a screaming child on an interisland flight. The child throws a temper tantrum while an exasperated adult attempts to remedy the situation with POG, that passion orange guava juice.

Perhaps, that screaming child is yours, and the sympathetic glances from fellow passengers make the 45-minute flight feel much longer. Even the most patient among us can feel pushed to the limit with our little one’s demands.

During these times of turbulence, it’s important to remember that acting out is a normal part of development. Keiki—even older ones—will sometimes behave badly and seek attention because they do not know how to vocalize their needs.

We know that there is no tougher role than being a parent or guardian. Every action you take can have a significant impact on the safety and happiness of your child. Parenthood comes with immense responsibility, incessant worrying, and yes, the occasional feeling of helplessness when your child loses control.

We recognize the importance of positive parenting and keeping our keiki safe, and we firmly believe that it’s everyone’s responsibility to protect children in our neighborhood and community.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. This month and throughout the year, we encourage families and communities to work together to prevent child abuse and neglect.

Here are five tips to help you navigate through demands and outbursts, while improving listening skills in children who always seek your attention.

  1. Consistency is key. During times of public outbursts, you might feel like you need to give in to the demand in order to end the struggle. However, it’s important to follow through on anything you say to teach your child that their naughty behavior won’t result in a positive outcome. If you say you’re going to leave the store during a tantrum, and the child still doesn’t calm down, then leave and don’t double back.
  2. Use positive reinforcement. As the child gets older, it is important to give positive reinforcements and vocalize what the child is doing well. To encourage more of that positive behavior, recognize when a child is being patient and behaving well.
  3. Spend quality time. There is no replacement for quality time with keiki. Turning off the TV and putting down the electronic devices to talk about the day, reading stories, or playing hula hoop can demonstrate that you have attention to give them at appropriate times. Games like Simon Says or Follow the Leader can also help keiki build listening skills. Asking questions during story time can even test comprehension.
  4. Learn to Ignore. It’s okay to tell your children, “I’ll speak to you when you’re calmer,” and then give them time to relax. Just like parents, kids need time to unwind. You may even be able to identify tantrum triggers ahead of time. Offering something to drink or a healthy snack could soothe a tired or hungry child before further emotional escalation.
  5. Know when to seek help. Anytime a child is putting his or her safety or safety of another person at risk, it is important to put an immediate stop to the behavior and, in some cases, seek professional help. Any significant change in behavior could be a sign that a recent trauma had an effect on the child.

While some keiki can be more spirited and demanding than others, it is important to help them become well-adjusted and independent by teaching them that everyone has boundaries, and that there are times and places that you can show them the attention they crave and deserve.

Marie Vorsino is vice president of intervention programs at Parents And Children Together, a Hawaiʻi nonprofit providing social services and early childhood education to nurture the relationships that matter most for children and families. For more information, visit

Parents And Children Together is partnering with HONOLULU Family in a series of articles on creating safe and promising futures for Hawaii’s children and families.