ATTENTION-SEEKING AS PART OF NORMAL DEVELOPMENT

Attention is a basic human need. Children of all ages seek out attention by saying or doing something that results in one or more adults and/or children providing some form of interaction. For example, a baby cries to signal to the parent that they are hungry, a child who walks up to the teacher and says ‘I need help with this’ or an upset teenager who walks up to her friend for a hug.

The attention given by others – whether positive (e.g. looking, talking, playing, helping, laughing and comforting) or negative (e.g. scolding, yelling, criticising, shaming, lecturing) or none at all in response to the child’s behaviour plays an important role in their survival, development and well-being.

FORMS OF ATTENTION-SEEKING BEHAVIOUR

Attention-seeking behaviour can take many forms. It can be a child talking, seeking validation, making noises, raising a hand, clowning around, blurting out the need for someone to help, teach or watch them do something; tattling, provoking a confrontation, incessantly questioning, bullying or teasing, and telling fantastical stories or exaggerated unrealistic experiences.

ATTENTION-SEEKING BEHAVIOUR OF CONCERN

Some children consistently exhibit attention-seeking behaviour. Attention-seeking behaviour becomes a concern when the following occur:

  • the frequency (i.e. how often a child exhibits attention-seeking behaviour) becomes excessive,
  • the duration (i.e. how long each incident of the attention-seeking behaviour lasts) becomes excessive,
  • the intensity (i.e. the strength of the attention-seeking behaviour) escalates from minor behaviours into extreme behaviours, and
  • the attention-seeking behaviour negatively impacts the child’s participation in activities, interaction with others, their day-to-day functioning and development

IMPACT OF ATTENTION-SEEKING BEHAVIOUR

When a child begins to persistently exhibit attention-seeking behaviour of concern, the climate of the context (e.g. childcare, early childhood, primary and secondary school, disability support and youth services) can change dramatically. A considerable amount of time and energy can be spent on the child showing the attention-seeking behaviour, which can have a deleterious effect on the quality of the learning experience for all the children. Research consistently shows that managing behaviour is linked to staff experiencing high levels of stress, burnout and job dissatisfaction.

Hence, attention-seeking behaviour affects everyone involved and the child who is seeking attention requires necessary help to learn positive ways of behaving and managing their emotions.

POSITIVE BEHAVIOUR SUPPORT AND ATTENTION-SEEKING BEHAVIOUR


Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) focuses on evidence-based strategies and person-centred supports that address the needs of the individual and the underlying causes of behaviours of concern, to enhance the quality of life for both the individual and those that support them.

PBS recognises that there is no single cause for attention-seeking behaviour. It is a complex behaviour that is a product of the interaction between multiple factors contributing to its development and persistence.

Attention-seeking behaviour is like the tip of the iceberg so it is essential to look beneath the surface to work out the why before we can address the problem.

There are three main setting-related factors which impact the child and their behaviour:

  • environment
  • activity, and
  • interaction.

These factors place different demands on the child, and when any of these demands outweigh the child’s skills to cope with them, the child engages in challenging behaviours. Attention-seeking behaviour may be the only way the child has learnt how to respond to these demands and get their message across. For example, it is group time and all the children have to sit in a group in the play area outside. Although there was shade it was a hot day so the children are feeling uncomfortable. The educator is sitting in front of the group on a chair holding the iPad and telling the children a story before lunch time. Cejay, sitting at the back of the group is straining to listen and watch the iPad. It is hard for him because the children next to him are talking and laughing. Suddenly Cejay starts making transport noises. The educator tells him to stop but instead he gets louder and starts to sway side to side hitting the other kids. In exasperation the educator tells him in a stern voice to come to the front and sit on the chair next to her. He walks to the front of the group and sits on the chair and watches the iPad quietly. The example highlights how the demands of the environment (i.e. temperature), interaction (i.e. sitting next to peers who are talking and laughing) and activity (i.e. sitting at the back of the group so he can’t see or hear the iPad clearly) shows that Cejay does not have the skills to communicate his thoughts, feelings, wants and needs, so resorts to using behaviours of concern that are seen as attention-seeking.

The example highlights that attention-seeking behaviour is not without purpose. It is never too late to address attention-seeking behaviour, even if it has been occurring for a while. PBS provides a road map to address attention-seeking behaviour by using a holistic approach to develop a comprehensive and individualised PBS plan in three stages: Assess-Manage-Prevent.

ASSESS STAGE

Assess Stage Aims

The Assess stage aims to identity:

  • Activities during which the attention-seeking behaviour occurs,
  • Environments in which the attention-seeking behaviour occurs, and
  • People dealing with the attention-seeking behaviour.

Assess Stage Checklist:

  • Child’s profile – Gather information about the child to create a comprehensive picture of the child, their abilities and needs.
  • Behaviour data collection forms – Record measurable details (e.g. frequency, intensity, duration) about the child’s attention-seeking behaviour.
  • Functional Behaviour Analysis (FBA)- Systematically reflect on an incident by analysing the antecedents (what preceded the attention-seeking behaviour), describing the attention-seeking behaviour, consequences (what happened after the attention-seeking behaviour).
  • Hypothesis – Determine the purpose (function) that the attention-seeking behaviour served.

MANAGE STAGE

Manage Stage Aims

When a child seeks attention, some children escalate if their request is ignored or not responded to in a planned manner. The Manage Stage outlines how to effectively respond to the behaviour to safely defuse, redirect, and de-escalate the situation in the least disruptive manner.

Manage Stage Checklist:

  • Escalation stages – Help those supporting the child to recognise the number of stages the child exhibits as their emotion rises (i.e. mild escalation, moderate escalation, extreme escalation, and recovery stage).
  • Escalation profile– Help those supporting the child to recognise what non-verbal and/or verbal behaviours are exhibited in the different escalation stages, and how long it can last.
  • De-escalation plan – Help those supporting the child with guidelines on how to immediately respond when the behaviour occurs, safely defuse, and de-escalate the situation in the least disruptive manner.

PREVENT STAGE

Prevent Stage Aims

This stage aims to prevent the occurrence of the attention-seeking behaviours by minimising or avoiding the triggers that cause it and teach the child alternative behaviours.

Prevent Stage plan

The plan details strategies to minimise or avoid the triggers that contribute to the attention-seeking behaviours by providing the child with:

  • Supportive environments – Tailoring environment related aspects to minimise or avoid triggers that set off attention-seeking behaviour.
  • Supportive activities – Tailoring activity related aspects to minimise or avoid triggers that set off attention-seeking behaviour.
  • Supportive interactions – Tailoring interaction aspects to minimise or avoid triggers that set off attention-seeking behaviour, and
  • Teaching the child – Teaching the student positive ways of communicating their messages and managing their emotions and behaviours.

A FOR ATTENTION-SEEKING: POSITIVE BEHAVIOUR SUPPORT GUIDE

Use the practical tools (checklists, forms, and strategies) in A for Attention-Seeking: Positive Behaviour Support to develop comprehensive PBS plans that can be used to support children of all ages consistently in all settings.

This invaluable resource is useful for educators in childcare, early childhood, primary and secondary schools, disability, mental health, allied health, and supervisory professionals.