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Attention needing behaviours

Angry child

General Points
Working with pupils who require a lot of attention can be particularly demanding both in terms of time and energy. It can feel that the youngster's need for attention is something of a bottomless pit. What is more, it is not uncommon to become caught in a vicious circle of reinforcing the unwanted behaviours by responding to them negatively - 'How many times do I have to tell you - hands up and no calling out!"

Reframing attention-seeking behaviour as attention-needing can be helpful as this is a more accurate description of what such behaviour is about – its function is indeed to get the attention the pupil needs. The need to belong and to have value are intrinsic to everyone. From birth (the Being stage), children need the security that comes from knowing that they matter, that the adults around them are aware of their needs and will help to take care of them. For a variety of reasons, some pupils might arrive in the classroom with a strong need to know that they belong and will be noticed. The anxiety that this won't be the case can be a very powerful driver, leading to a wide variety of behaviours aimed at satisfying this need.

Questions to consider in assessing the behaviour:

  • Does the pupil seek the attention of adults? peers? Both?
  • If there is a need for attention from peers, what opportunities could be created for this need to be positively met during the lesson, e.g. paired work, or sharing a responsibility in the class with another pupil etc
  • What are the exceptions - when are the behaviours less apparent/non-existent - and what clues might these give us as to how best to support the pupil?
  • Does consideration need to be give for input from other professionals, including, in the more serious instances, those related to child protection?
Behaviours Possible developmental tasks Competencies related to behaviour Affirmations Strategies

Shouting out

Calling out

Making noises

Out of seat

Telling tales

Often talking about things designed to get sympathy

To call for care

To bond emotionally; to trust caring adults

To learn to get needs met

To signal needs; to trust others and self

To express anger and other feelings

To start to give up beliefs about being the centre of the universe

To develop internal controls

Asking for help

Listening and following instructions

Waiting in turn

Putting up hand / using other signal

Find more appropriate ways of receiving attention

We are glad you are here

We will take care of your needs

You belong here

What you need is important to us

You can think and feel at the same time

You can know what you need and ask for help

All of your feelings are OK here

Give pupil attention early in lesson e.g. as they come in through the door

Verbal prompts eg:

‘Kieran, I’ll come to you after James has given us his idea’

Non-verbal reminder of hand-up rule

Reinforce positive behaviours – Thanks for waiting, Kieran’ / ‘Well done for putting your hand up’

Tactical ignoring

Reinforce other pupils’ waiting / putting hand up

If silly noises etc, encourage peers to ignore

Look for slots in the lesson – just a few seconds when you can give some positive attention


Raise self-esteem

Social skills work – developing empathy, listening to others - see Getting on with Others