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Connection Seeking

by on December 30, 2019 5:00 AM


I read an article on the internet a few weeks ago about children and parenting and managing negative behavior. I don’t have little kids any more but something in the article stuck with me. It suggested we reframe the phrase “attention seeking” and change it to “connection seeking.” The author wrote that we can be better parents when our kids are seemingly trying to get attention by being proactive and taking time to sit, listen, and perhaps even touch.  

In effect, offering connection is the key. Rather than get annoyed and yell and punish, the idea is to take note of the “connection seeking” and sit in direct eye contact with the child or next to them on a couch and connect.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that reframing. Connection seeking. The basic human need to connect to others drives us in so many ways. When our connection to others is missing, our happiness and quality of life are impacted. I am not the first to say that we are, at the same time, the most connected society in history but the most disconnected from one another.  We can send an instant text message or social media post to hundreds of people at a time, but it is becoming increasingly more uncomfortable for some people – especially young people – to deeply and authentically connect with one another.

When we aren’t connected to others, it feeds a cycle of disconnection. Without connection, we lose our ability to feel, to empathize with how others may feel and to feel love for ourselves or for others.

From cyberbullying to taking a gun to a mall, attention seeking is born from the need to connect and to feel connected.   

In children, it seems kind of obvious. With limited or still developing abilities to express feelings or understand what is happening inside of them, they become frustrated and angry. Sadness or loneliness can come across as anger or a tantrum. They may not have the skills or abilities to say “I need to connect.” Not following directions or agitating one’s siblings can be a way to get the attention – even if it’s negative attention – and make a connection with another human being.  

It’s not any different with adults.

The person at work who is disruptive and negative. The family member who creates conflict. The neighbor or checkout person or bus driver or server who is short-tempered, angry or just plain sad may be looking for connection. We don’t need social scientists to tell us what we already know.  Disconnecting from others inevitably leads to disconnecting from ourselves. It’s common knowledge. People who hurt others are hurting. We hurt when we are disconnected. What would actually happen if, when we saw attention-seeking behavior, we reframed it and turned it into connection seeking?

For my New Year’s resolution for this new decade, I am going to work on my connections.

My kids will tell you that I am that I am already the person who will talk to the counter person in the airport or to the mom with the baby in Target. I get it from my mom. We still laugh about the time in Chicago on the L train, heading to the museums with Illinois cousins who were showing us the city, when my mom announced to the people around us “We aren’t from here.” Setting herself up for a mugging aside, she has sought connections with others her whole life.

I’ve seen the connection thing happen first hand. Waiting in line at the grocery store, the person ahead of me goes through his or her whole order, from putting the groceries on the conveyor belt to signing the credit card machine, all the while ignoring the human checking them out because they are talking on the phone. The worker looks away, looks down and doesn’t even bother to try to connect.  When I step up, put my phone in my pocket, look them in the eye and ask “How is your day going?” they always seem a bit surprised. They are most often more than willing to engage in a bit of conversation.

It's good stuff and pretty easy to do. It doesn’t cure cancer or eradicate hunger but making connections improves the lives of all of us.

Disconnected kids turn into hurting teens and angry adults. How many of our current conflicts have been fed by disconnection – tweets, sound bites, social media posts – could be turned down with some face- to-face connection?

By starting to make simple connections with each other, we may be able to solve some bigger societal issues.  

We are enriched and grow when we connect with each other, talk, laugh, make eye contact and say “tell me about you.” I am in for more connections in 2020. How about you?  




Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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