Thursday, October 16, 2008

Handling Attention-Getting Behavior

We have been looking at 5 different types of misbehavior: disobedience, attention-getting, breaking rules and routines, deliberately hurting others, and wrong behavior rooted in real problems. In the last post we looked at the first of these: disobedience. Now we come to the second: attention-getting behaviors.

There is a long list of things that children do to get attention: whining, arguing, throwing fits (falling on the floor or kicking and screaming), pestering other kids, crying without reason, not responding to an adult when spoken to, demanding parents or adults to do things for them, interrupting, saying “you don’t love me,” or “I don’t love you,” answering every response with the question, “why?” when they are not really interested in the answer, and the list goes on. What distinguishes these behaviors is not the behavior itself, but the motivation: to get attention. As you can see, the severity of these behaviors spans a wide range.

There is a two step process for dealing with attention-getting behavior that deals with the core of the issue. The first step is to ignore the behavior. The second step is to be used when the child’s behavior begins to infringe on the rights of other people, and that is to set up the either-or-choice.

Before I begin this process, I will usually let the child know what they are doing wrong and, if possible, the appropriate action to take. For example, “You are whining right now and I am not going to respond, if you would like to ask for something properly, then go ahead.” Or, “This conversation is now turning into an argument, and I am not going to argue.”

Ignoring a child’s attention-getting behavior is a lot more difficult than it sounds. It requires giving the child no attention at all: no words, no facial expressions, no eye-contact, no body language, nothing. Pretend like they are not even in the room. This can be very difficult if the child is throwing a fit, but if you have ever been ignored, then you know how powerful this can be. You must go about your business and even have a good time, remember: you are in control of your own attitude and emotions. Over time, the child will realize that the behavior does not accomplish their goal of getting your attention.

When this does not eliminate the behavior, or the child escalates to infringing on the rights of others, the second step is to give him an either-or-choice. This is not punishment and you are not angry, you are just going to create a situation in which their behavior does not affect others and you can continue to ignore it. For example, “You can either choose to stop whining, or you can go to your room and whine there,” or “You can either choose to stop pestering your brother, or you can go to your room.” You are not giving them a command at this point, there is no anger or power struggle. They have the choice. If they do not either stop the behavior or go to their room, then you will have to assist them (see previous post on the “kinetic assist”).

These steps are a teaching process and learning a new behavior takes time. Being consistent and remembering not to sabotage the process by giving attention, or becoming angry or emotional will help the learning take place.