Quick-Fire Strategies: How To Reduce Attention-Seeking Behaviour In Class

Quick-Fire Strategies: How To Reduce Attention-Seeking Behaviour In Class

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If you're working with students who present with attention seeking behaviours in school, or maybe you're a parent and you're seeing that pattern of behaviour at home, then this episode of School Behaviour Secrets is for you.

We'll look at why the term attention seeking might be unhelpful both for the child and the adult, and weĆ¢€ ll share three different ways of thinking about behaviour so that we can find useful strategies to support them.

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Show notes / transcription

Simon Currigan

If you're working with students who present attention seeking behaviours in the classroom or indeed you're a parent and you're seeing that pattern of behaviour at home, this episode is perfect for you. We'll look at why the term attention seeking might be unhelpful both for the child and the adult and 3 different ways of thinking about their behaviour that can help us find useful insights and strategies to support them. That's all coming up on today's School Behaviour Secrets. Welcome to the school behaviour secrets podcast. I'm your host, Simon Currigan. My co host is Emma Shackleton, and we're obsessed with helping teachers, school leaders, parents, and, of course, students when classroom behaviour gets in the way of success. We're gonna share the tried and tested secrets to classroom management, behavioural special needs, whole school strategy, and more, all with the aim of helping your students reach their true potential.

Plus, we'll be letting you eavesdrop on our conversations with thought leaders from around the world, so you'll get to hear the latest evidence based strategies before anyone else. This is the School Behaviour Secrets podcast. Hi there. Simon Currigan here, and welcome to this week's episode of School Behaviour Secrets. This week, I'm releasing a quick fire episode because where we live in the UK, it's currently the Easter holidays. That said, the Easter holidays in the UK are a bit of a dog's breakfast at the moment all over the place. And it's amazing that the local authorities in such a small country couldn't agree when Easter actually was.

Anyway, in these quick fire episodes, I'd like to give you one idea, insight, or strategy away from the main podcast that can be useful for improving behaviour or supporting children with social, emotional, and mental health needs in your school. And if you've been listening to the podcast and finding it useful, don't forget to subscribe and tell your friends or colleagues about it. Throw some good karma out there back into the world and help us get this information to teachers, school leaders, and parents who really need it. I'd really appreciate your support. In this episode, I wanted to explore the idea of attention seeking behaviour and why thinking about behaviour as being attention seeking might not actually be that helpful either for the student or the adult. I remember reading about an old study once back from the fifties, maybe. I'm sorry.

I tried to track down the exact name, date, and author for this podcast, but I couldn't locate it. But it was a very simple experiment. A teacher had 3 children in his class that he described as having very difficult challenging behaviour, particularly during work tasks. The researchers told him after you've set the class to their task, we want you to spend a minute with child 1, then move to child 2 for a minute, then move to child 3 for a minute, then look after the rest of the class for a minute before returning to child 1 and so on and so forth. And what they found was by constantly rotating around those children, the amount of difficult behaviour they saw in class from those 3 students, the shouting out, challenging the teacher, talking across the room, that kind of thing, significantly declined. It almost disappeared. The researchers noted that when the adult gave the children attention, it kind of solved the problem of the disruptive behaviour.

The problem with this is we could label a behaviour, and I say label the behaviour here rather than the child, as attention seeking. And then we could feed it attention all day long assuming we have the adults, but that never really gets to the upstream problem of what's causing that attention seeking behaviour in the first place. Because when you use the label of attention seeking, you kind of hit this cognitive psychological concrete wall. Why does the student keep calling out? They're attention seeking or the behaviour is attention seeking. It feels like we've hit the final explanation, and the explanation focuses on a character weakness. The next step from this is to relabel the behaviour attention needing or connection seeking behaviour.

Both of these indicate that for some reason, the child requires more attention or connection with the adults. But, again, for me, this relabeling hits another brick wall. Other than feeding that behaviour with more attention or connection or however you see it, it doesn't give us a path towards success. We're not addressing what's causing the need. So if you're working with children who engage in attention seeking, attention needing, connection seeking, call it whatever you will.

Here are 3 frames that I found helpful. The first is to look at a child's actions and see if they're consistent with the ambivalent attachment style, or as I prefer to think of it, the anxious attachment style. Here, because of the pattern of their early experiences, the child wants a connection with the adults. But equally, they've learned to be wary of adults because of their past experiences. They've learned that adults can be unpredictable. Sometimes they can be caring. Sometimes they can be mean.

So what you can sometimes find is the child needs help with the task, say, that means they need the adult, but they don't know whether they can trust the adult. So they engage in some attention seeking behaviour, which attracts the adult over to support them with the work. But then when the adult comes, the child pushes them away again because they don't know if the adult is safe, if they can be trusted, and they get caught in this push pull push pull needing connection, but not feeling safe with that connection. Of course, they don't realize this in a conscious logical way. They're just running on emotions. So that's the first frame that I often use to look at attention seeking behaviour. The second question I ask myself is, has the child developed the idea that they can be held in mind?

Being held in mind is a powerful concept which gives you psychological safeties. It's where it feels like there's an invisible thread that connects the child to an adult caregiver. When you understand that your mom or your dad or your carer can hold you in mind, it means that the adult can still be thinking about you and there to protect you even if they're not physically there with you. So for an example, if my son's not feeling a 100% this morning and I still send him to school, And I'll say, I tell you what. I'll text you at lunch to check-in and see how things are going. He can appreciate that even though I'm miles away, I can still be holding him in mind and looking after his welfare. Some kids don't develop this for all sorts of reasons.

So we send them out into the world to school, and they feel like, essentially, they're on their own. They're responsible for their own safety and their own well-being and protection, but they don't have the capacity and skills to deliver that, to be independent because, you know, they're kids. So they're in the classroom feeling anxious and worried, feeling like no one's taking care of them, looking out for them. There's no invisible thread between them and their parents or another adult in the room or their teacher. So they engage in some behaviour that attracts an adult to come and be physically with them. Because when the adult is alongside them, it helps them feel safe for a while, and the anxiety subsides. But then when the adult naturally moves on to help another child, those feelings of anxiety start to rise again because if the adult's not right next to me, how can they be looking after me? Right? You have no concept that the adult can still be holding you in mind, and so you engage in more behaviour to bring the adult back.

Again, this isn't conscious planned behaviour. This is running on emotion. The 3rd useful frame I use is that of lack of resilience. The idea that I'm not able to cope emotionally if I get this work wrong, and that might be because of a general lack of an emotional resilience or lack of self esteem or because you identify getting something wrong with your individual character. Here's an example of what I mean by that. For instance, if you experience toxic shame, that means you've developed the negative belief that you are bad and unlovable because of your early childhood experiences. And that means that when you make mistakes with your work, those aren't just mistakes.

That's yet more proof that you're bad and unlovable. So if the work looks a bit hard, it's better not to take the chance to feel those emotions. I'll avoid the work or just do the bits I'm 100% sure I know I'm capable of doing, and then I'll get an adult to help me through the rest. And to do that, I'll need their attention. And what's the quickest way in my experience to get the adult's attention? Well, likely, it's not sitting quietly and waiting politely. Now, obviously, there are more than just these three reasons why a child might engage in attention seeking behaviour.

But when you approach their behaviour like this, you can see that it gives you way more options. It's a deeper way of thinking about it. It gives you a way into addressing the upstream problem, the thing that's causing the behaviour rather than the symptom itself, the behaviour that you're seeing in the classroom. And in truth, the 3 frames I've shared here, anxious attention, being held in mind, shame or low self esteem, it's amazing how far these will get you in most classrooms in terms of addressing attention seeking, attention needing, connection seeking behaviour, whatever you want to label it. And that's all I've got for you today. Next week, it's still the Easter holiday, so I'll be back with another quick fire episode. Where I'll be sharing one more strategy or insight to help you support the kids in your class.

Until then, I hope you have a brilliant week, especially if you're off work, and I look forward to seeing you next time on School Behaviour Secrets.


(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)