What are Attention Seeking Behaviors?
There are generally four functions of behavior: sensory, escape, attention, and tangible. (Read Arielle’s post for more info about identifying these functions!) Attention seeking behaviors are any behavior that is done with the intention of gaining attention or interaction for the child. Calling out, telling long stories, hiding in order to be found, teasing others are all examples of attention seeking behavior. The goal for the student is to gain social reinforcement – either positive or negative – from others.
Dealing with attention seeking behaviors in the classroom can be frustrating. It sometimes feels like attention-seekers take up so much of your time, which can be draining for the teacher. Read on to learn some strategies to help quash these behaviors.
Proactive Strategies for Attention Seeking Behaviors
Proactive strategies can help to prevent problem behavior by creating a positive environment for the student. These techniques can be implemented throughout the school day.
Keep a Predictable Schedule
All students benefit from a predictable structure and routine in the classroom. Use of a visual schedule in the classroom helps students know what to expect throughout the school day. This helps them to anticipate when they will be able to get the attention they seek. This will help prevent acting out.
Set Clear Expectations
Knowing they can have a reward after completing an expectation helps students minimize attention seeking outbursts. Using first/then language or token boards helps students know when to expect their reward.
Provide Positive Interactions
Of course, we try to give all of our students some one-on-one time each day. For students who crave attention, providing lots of individual interactions helps them to fulfill their need for attention. These interactions can come from you, other teachers or staff members, or peers. Just giving a little high five or verbal praise throughout the day can curb potential attention seeking situations.
Teach the Student How to Gain Attention Positively
I taught my attention seeking students a really neat trick that I saw in an episode of “Bluey,” of all places! If a student wants my attention but I am busy, they can put their hand on my arm to let me know. I will touch their hand to acknowledge that I know they are waiting for me. This helps them learn to wait while also giving them the reinforcement of the attention they were looking for.
Reactive Strategies for Attention Seeking Behaviors
Sometimes attention seeking behaviors persist despite our proactive measures. If necessary, here are some ways to react to these situations.
Ignore the Behavior
Ignoring the behavior is the natural solution to dealing with attention seekers. If we do not provide the student with the reinforcement of attention, they will eventually move on from their behavior. It can be helpful to post a note or give others a nonverbal signal to let them know you are ignoring a behavioral situation.
Direct Your Attention Elsewhere
When a student seeks attention in a less than ideal way, giving attention and praise to another student can send a clear message: students who seek attention with appropriate behavior will be rewarded.
Give an Appropriate Consequence
When a student seeks attention in a negative way, they may need a consequence like redirection or a break from the situation. Remember that even interacting with the child in this way is still providing a form of attention. So, ignoring attention seeking behaviors, when possible, is ideal.
Helping Staff and Students Deal with these Behaviors
When we see a staff member struggling with a student’s behavior, the instinct of others is often to try to help. However, this is usually not helpful because it can feed into the attention-seeking need and inflame the situation. One of the best proactive strategies to prevent this is to teach staff members to follow your lead in behavioral situations. This can and should include paraprofessionals who work in your room, admin, and other teachers in the building who may want to intervene. Any of these people may encounter a behavioral situation, and they need to be aware of protocols.
Your students will also need reminders not to feed into a classmate’s attention seeking behaviors. This can be hard for kids to understand because a student who is attention-seeking may be loud or silly, and anyone’s natural instinct is to look. One helpful tool is the privacy folder. (affiliate link) These can be given to either the attention-seeking student, the affected student, or both, to provide a barrier between the behavior and the onlooker.
Dealing with attention-seeking behavior can be stressful. When you are trying to intervene with a student, don’t be afraid to ask another staff member to “tag in” and take over if you need a break from the situation. Being proactive by bringing positive interactions to your students can help you to nip these behaviors in the bud and also create a happier classroom environment!
Do you have attention seeking students in your classroom? What strategies have you tried for dealing with these behaviors?