Behavioral Tip from Randy Sprick

Task 5: Attention-Seeking Misbehaviors

An attention-seeking misbehavior is a mild, recurring behavior that a student knows is unacceptable, but engages in as a way to get teacher or peer attention. Chronic blurting out, excessive helplessness, and tattling are examples that may be attention-seeking in nature. The strategy that is most likely to "correct" attention-seeking behavior is planned ignoring.

With planned ignoring, you reduce or eliminate the attention a student receives for engaging in misbehavior, while concurrently giving the student frequent attention when he or she is not engaged in misbehavior. Here are suggested steps for implementing planned ignoring:

1) Ascertain whether ignoring is an appropriate response.

To determine if ignoring is the best strategy, ask yourself these questions:

2) Discuss the proposed plan with the student.

Make clear that your intent is not to ignore the student as a person, but the behavior the student should be managing without attention from you. Explain that because you have such high expectations for the student's ability to manage this behavior, you are not going to give reminders or assign consequences. Inform the student that if he engages in more severe misbehaviors (i.e., bothering others, hitting, kicking), you will assign corrective consequences. Finally, let the student know that you will be looking for opportunities to give him your time and attention when he is behaving responsibly.

3) When the misbehavior occurs, continue what you are doing and provide positive feedback to other students.

Once you have informed the student of your plan to ignore, give no attention to the misbehavior. Do not shrug, sigh, or act exasperated. Teach. Present lessons. Give your attention to students who are doing the responsible thing.

4) When the attention-seeking misbehavior ceases, give the student attention.

You need to demonstrate to the student that responsible behavior results in attention. Therefore, shortly after the student begins behaving responsibly (one-two minutes for elementary students, five minutes for secondary students), give the student attention.

5) Maintain frequent interactions with the student when he is not misbehaving.

It is essential to provide at least three times more attention to positive behavior than to negative behavior—especially when you are using planned ignoring. If the student does not experience lots of attention when behaving responsibly, he will simply step up the severity of misbehavior until you cannot possibly ignore him. You must praise this student frequently and give him lots of noncontingent attention.

6) Monitor the student's behavior to determine whether he is making progress.

At least once per week, count the frequency or record the duration of this behavior. After two weeks of using planned ingnoring, evaluate whether the stiuation is improving. If it is not, continue the ignoring and increase the amount and intensity of the attention you provide when the student is not misbehaving. If there is still no improvement after another two weeks, abandon planned ignaoring as a strategy and treat this misbehavior as purposeful and/or habitual.

— Excerpt from CHAMPs: A Proactive and Positive Approach to Classroom Management