Shawn looked right at her. His eyes turned up in the corners and the smallest sinister smile flashed onto his face. Then he took his paper and ripped it in half, all the while looking for her reaction. The para assigned to his small group kept her cool, but then that sinister smile was joined by Shawn’s raised eyebrow. He seemed curious there was no reaction, so he spit right in her face.
THAT… got a reaction. His aide flung her chair back and stood up with a loud and boisterous “Not Okay! That is NOT okay!” She continued to berate him for a few minutes, excused herself and went to the bathroom (I presume to say a prayer and wash her face). But it was too late. The damage was done. Shawn knew now how to get attention… with one well placed loogie.
Strategies for Attention Seeking
The behavior escalated over the next few weeks. He continued to spit to get more attention. The aide continued to overreact whenever the spitting happened and it only fed the behavior. By the time I came back, the spitting had gotten out of control. He had been moved to an “isolated” spot in the classroom with barriers on three sides to keep him from spitting on people. It didn’t matter. When no one was nearby, the spitting became a distance sport and he was going for gold!
Now what? His teacher and aide wanted to know…
Strategies for Attention Seekers
This all started weeks before it got out of hand. Shawn was working on a non-preferred task, a worksheet, and wasn’t getting any attention. Others around him were… so he communicated with his behavior to get what he wanted.
Now we have to teach him to get the same thing in a better way. For Shawn, how can he get the attention without the spitting?
Here are a few ideas for dealing with behavior in attention seekers…
A student wants some attention… and they will get it one way or another. So what is the ‘right’ way you want them to go about gettin’ some attention? You have to define another way for them to get it- Are they going to ask for it? Are they going to use a break card to stop work and access social time? Are they going to use an “I need help” card to get you to come over and interact albeit academically? Could be they raise their hand to get your attention so you can come over and check in on them. With Ask Away, you are just looking for an appropriate way for the students to get the attention they’re seeking.
There are things that your student may do that warrant all kinds of positive attention. Are they sitting in their seat? Holding their pencil? On time to class? Doing their work? Shower attention on those behaviors and be sure to point out that you’re giving the attention because of the good behavior. You can pair this with a planned ignore of the bad behavior to get better results. An example may be: “Shawn, I love how you are sitting in your seat right now. Great Job!” You may choose to ignore the spitting, but in the spitting moments, give attention to another student for their appropriate behavior. An example might be: (Shawn spits) “Becca, I love how you’re working so hard on your math right now, great job! High Five!”
When Shawn starts to see that other people are getting attention from doing certain things and he isn’t when he spits, he may retool his attention seeking approach. So, recap, praise positive, planned ignore, praise others for positives. All that is a way to give attention another way.
60 seconds, Okay!
It could be that you want to time train a student to behave appropriately. Every 60 seconds that the students doesn’t have the attention seeking behavior, they get attention… in this situation, the student would be getting plenty of what they wanted without having to act out.
Truth be told, sometimes we forget the good kids. We get caught up in the naughties that we overlook the nice. You should be sprinkling the praise in your class throughout the day to motivate everyone to be a little more ‘nice’.
With this strategy, you are overly reinforcing the positives in hopes of fading the negatives. You may try to set the timer on your phone to vibrate every 2 minutes. With that reminder, if your target student is not exhibiting behaviors, you would give them attention. The student starts to understand they will get attention without the behaviors and those behaviors start to fade. You lengthen the time incrementally and, hopefully, the behavior stays away!
First Work Then Yay!
First-then charts are awesome in that they define a clear way for a student to get what they want, in this case attention. I want my attention to be a chat with teacher, a peer interaction, a high five or positive note home… whatever the student chooses can be the incentive. And the first can be to work with safe hands, no spitting, and feet on floor. Once the assignment is completed, a students earns their reward! Knowing I can work for the things I want incentivises the work and allows a student to safely and appropriately get what they want, in this case attention.
Strategies for Attention Seeking
No matter what strategy you use, you have got to remember that the student wants attention, and you will have to give it to them. How you want that to look is up to you! Stay strong and teach on!
Oh… in case you were wondering, using a version of all the strategies above (teaching hand raising, overly praising the positives, using a timer for planned praise, and using a first-then card worked for Shawn. He was able to ultimately stop the spitting (thank goodness) and still get the attention he wanted!