Attention Seeking Students

They follow you. They interrupt you. They talk out. They touch your stuff. They touch you. They are in your face. They talk louder and louder until they get your attention (or are told to go on their way). They are a distraction to others. They misbehave. They need you. 

Attention seeking students do all of these and more! They truly aren’t doing these things to be malicious and to eat up your time and patience. They crave attention and seek it out in anyway possible. Possible causes for this behavior could be attributed to a variety of factors.

Perhaps a child has learned that the only way to get noticed or to get their way is to be present without boundaries. Maybe in their household there is a lot of yelling and everyone is in the running to receive attention based on their behavior. Unfortunately  in large households where the adult is outnumbered, the child who misbehaves is usually the recipient of the majority of attention. After all, negative attention is better than no attention at all, right?

Whatever the theory, it really does not matter. What does matter is that you have students for several hours of the day who need you. Thankfully, this need does not have to extend into the behaviors that were listed above. So what exactly can a teacher do to squash these negative attention seeking behaviors? Read on my friend:

  • Provide tangible items (tokens, post-it notes, a checklist) at the start of everyday. This is the number of times that the student can approach you with a topic. Once their items are gone, they can no longer try to get your attention unless it is an emergency. This works very well especially when there is a built in reward such as lunch with you when they save their items. Establish that they can save their items for a larger reward. 
  • Establish a non-verbal signal with a student. When showing them the signal, you are telling them that they are crossing a boundary, need to stop talking, and/or need to return to their seat. Whatever it may be, use the signal consistently and keep your expectations high.
  • Be patient. For many of these attention seeking students, they are unaware of any other way of getting your attention. Spend time with them reviewing the classroom rules and your expectations for their behavior. Having a positive relationships with your students will encourage them to further rise to the occasion of following though with the rules and set boundaries of school.
  • Speak to the support staff in your building about including attention seeking students in a social skills group where they can be further exposed to appropriate ways and times to get the attention of others. Here they can learn and practice the necessary skills  to become successful.
  • Create a contract/plan that breaks down the day into subjects. For each subject in which the student completes their work and follows the rules of the classroom, they get a check mark. Tally the number of check marks earned daily and provide incentives for the student. More than likely, the desired and most effective incentive will be time spent with an adult and/or friends. In an effort to ensure that this doesn’t become too taxing on your time, enlist the help of other staff members with whom your student has a relationships with. Rotating the time that a a student earns can not only help the child to to excel but also allows staff members the time needed to complete other tasks.

Whatever plan you choose, always include the student in a discussion about their behavior, the plan, and ask for their input. This way you empower them as a stakeholder and contributor of the plan. The result? Increased student buy-in and success!

Some days are harder than others. I get it ! There are also some days that your plans work better than others. Hang in there and use these ideas consistenly to provide support to your students and sanity to yourself. 

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Barb, LMHC, CPC, Ed.M, CAS  

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