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#AskAlyson: Attention Seeking at School

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Hi Alyson,


Wondering if you had any tips for my son.  He’s a smart sweet boy who’s struggling in school and daycare.  It seems to me that he is attention seeking. His teacher is doing a tracking sheet with him that is not working.  He’s now had his desk moved to the front of the class by himself.  All I hear is negative comments about his behaviour.  The teacher told me if he behaves like a normal child he can move back with the others.  His common behaviour seems to be acting silly, distracting others, not listening to instructions. He’s a very bright young boy and fortunately the behaviours haven’t affected his academics at this stage.  I’m feeling discouraged with the teacher. I’m not sure what I can be doing at home to help, and maybe what suggestions for the teacher I could give.  The teacher’s next step is sending him to the office.  I really don’t think this is going to fix the issue.


If you have any suggestions, that would be amazing.


Thanks so much,



Hi Tara,


You are right – sending him to the office is not going to fix the behaviour in the long run. You are also right in believing that there is something else going on that is responsible for the misbehaviour in the first place. Lastly, you are bang-on in realizing that all the negative comments about his behaviour are not helping. Kids who feel good, do good and the reciprocal is true to; kids who don’t feel good, don’t do good.   All misbehaviour can be seen as a symptom of the child’s discouragement about his failing ability to find a sense of belonging or significance in his group.


So let’s sort this out into 2 areas that need to be tackled:


1. Why is your son seeking undue attention?


Children who seek undue attention have the mistaken belief that can find their significance and importance by making people pay attention to them or forcing them to do thing things for them. They think to themselves “I must be important if my classmates are giggling at my clowning and the teacher takes the time to single me out and talk to me.”  It sure feels better to be corrected than to feel invisible and ignored.


The solution? He needs to find ways to feel he belongs and is a connected part of the group through constructive ways. For some reason he is not at ease with how he is connected to the group at school, and is trying creative means to solve that problem. Sadly, his solutions (acting silly, not paying attention) are not socially acceptable or constructive, though they do serve to keep him in the limelight.


Help him find his own strengths, traits, assets that could be put to use to help the group. Adults need to find his value and help show him how to apply his skills in ways that are helpful instead of a hindrance to the group.



2. How do you fix this with the teacher’s help?

You will find that most teachers are really willing to try just about anything to help kids do well. Sometimes, it simply takes the suggestion of a new idea and approach to get the creative juices flowing that fix a persistent problem. The tricky part is to do this in a way that is not insulting to the teacher. You really need to maintain a positive relationship with the teacher and to approach this in a way that does not feel threatening or cause him/her to react defensively.


A good approach is to say “I am sure you are tired of this issue and are as eager for a solution as we are! After speaking with our counsellor/family doctor/coach, etc., I have some ideas we could try for a few weeks and see as an experiment if they make an impact. Would you be willing? We could plan together.”


Then suggest the following recommendations:

  • Ditch the tracking chart. Who can feel good when they know someone is just waiting for them to do good or bad and then record it! Frankly, he is unware of the reasons he behaves the way he does and his motivation is to seek belonging from the group, not stickers from an authority figure.


  • Positive comments only. It takes 10 positive comments to “refill our bucket” after a negative comment. If he is not doing well at concentrating, focus on telling him all the times he does listen well and try to ignore the not-so-successful episodes. Trust that he knows what he needs to be doing, and he that he is trying. Baby steps towards improvement is what we want. Get your energy focused on noticing his successes instead of on offside behavior.


  • Set up a secret signal. Again, there is no need for negatives. Establish a private code between teacher and student… perhaps when the teacher tugs on her earlobe it signals to your son that he is not being helpful and is beginning to disturb the group. He has not been aware of his behavior up to this point because it’s preconscious. If he continues, the teacher can lead him out of the room and invite him to come back in when he is ready to be helpful to the group. Enforce the idea that his help is needed for everyone to get done what they need to do.



  • Be sure to pay a lot of attention and give a lot of noticing time and attention to when he is being a constructive and co-operative member of the classroom. The teacher can even send home notes of appreciation for all the ways he was helpful in the classroom that day.


For more information on undue attention seeking and how you can help, please take a look at Chapters 3 and 4 from my book “Honey, I Wrecked The Kids”.


Happy Parenting,


About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

More about Alyson

2 Responses to “#AskAlyson: Attention Seeking at School”

  1. Sarah

    Thank you for asking the question and the helpful response. I am having really similar issues with my son except I do think it is affecting his academic performance somewhat (he is not failing but is not doing as well as he is capable of doing). My question for Alyson on this one is what, if any, consequences at home should there be for things that happen at school? This is a bit of a family disagreement at the moment so I am hoping you can provide some insight!

    • Alyson Schafer

      Hi Sarah, Things that happen at school should be handled by the teachers and principle. If your child acts up in class and the teachers decides to keep your son in at recess, then that is the consequence. If you discover this transgression has happened and then you make them go to bed early for their bad behaviour at school, they are getting punished twice the same crime. This will feel very unfair to the child and they will likely retaliate. If the issue at school is learning and motivation, then the trick is to work with the teacher and child as a team, together to find out what is discouraging them or holding them back.

      Hope that helps.


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