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Attention Seeking Behaviour And How to Reduce It

Attention seeking behaviour varies from individuals as the people around react differently.

Attention seeking behaviours can range from silly to defiant behaviours (Reeve, n.d.) and it can happen when a child either wants attention from a specific person or to draw your attention away from a task they want to avoid – for example, bedtime or bath time. These behaviours can be a cue to change a routine or an approach to a repetitive negative behaviour.

Identifying Attention Seeking Behaviour

How can we identify attention seeking behaviours? Some patterns in attention seeking behaviours are that the child usually knows that the act he/she is doing is not pleasant or acceptable but does it anyway (Morey, n.d.). Examples of these unpleasant behaviours can be screaming excessively. Another tell-tale sign would be when they engage you before showing the negative behaviour – for example, throwing items off a table when you are looking or doing it until they have your attention. It can also be something as simple as a repetitive behaviour which garners attention from you on the daily. Attention seeking behaviour varies from individuals as the people around react differently, therefore it is important to be aware and conscious of how you react and what are the specific behaviours you react to, this can help you identify what constitutes an attention seeking behaviour in your child.

Reducing the Behaviour

Reducing attention can be difficult when it comes to aggressive children. Aggressive children either engage in self-injurious behaviours or become violent with yourself and others. Reducing the behaviour will take multiple trials before the child learns that he/she will not be reinforced when engaged in a negative behaviour. Children become reinforced when attention is given to them in the form of a response, whether it is to chide them or to correct them – negative attention is still attention (Kohek, 2019).

Several strategies have been used to reduce these negative behaviours under different circumstances: Functional analysis, Differential reinforcement of appropriate behaviour (DRA), Differential reinforcement of other behaviour (DRO) (Edelson, n.d.).

Functional analysis is used to find out the possible causes of this behaviour and how to reduce these found triggers. Functional analysis involves questions like: “who was present during the behaviour”, “when does it usually happen?”, “what happened before, during and after this behaviour?”, “how long does it usually go on for?”.

Differential reinforcement of appropriate behaviour (DRA) would be to give attention when the child is engaged in a positive behaviour while engaged in a task that usually triggers him/her. Praises can be given to remind the child that they are behaving well. This is important as it focuses on good behaviours rather than correcting the negative behaviours which may not be as effective when the child is already having a meltdown or is throwing a big fit. Praises for good behaviour are a reminder and a prevention of negative behaviours, as attention is given aplenty.

Differential reinforcement of other behaviour (DRO) is when a child is engaged in any form of appropriate and positive behaviour. Attention is given in these cases, similar to DRA, a reminder, and a prevention of chances for the child to engage in a negative behaviour for attention. Praising appropriate behaviours is also reinforcing and would encourage the child to repeat such behaviours in the future, reducing the likelihood to negative attention seeking behaviours.

Lastly, special time is another method of bonding as well as providing attention to your child everyday which would reduce these said behaviours drastically as it creates a sense of security that they will always have this attention during special time. Special time is an unconditional set time every day for your child for at least 30 minutes. This special time is given to them regardless of their behaviour that day, reason being – for children that struggle with maintaining good behaviours, they may never be able to “earn” that attention if they keep behaving inappropriately, and sometimes they struggle to control themselves too. Having unconditional special time everyday gives them security that they do not have to engage in certain behaviours and can still get the attention they need and want. There can be rules set in place for special time to protect yourself, for example, if the child were to engage in behaviours during special time that are too violent, special time can be reduced that day.

Ultimately, attention is a need that all humans crave, and it is not necessarily bad. Behaviors can be taught to correct their approach such that they ask for attention in ways that are appropriate.

Written by: Joleen


Edelson, S.M. (n.d.). Other strategies for attention seeking behaviors. Synapse. Reconnecting lives. Retrieved from

Kohek, J. (2019). How to respond to attention seeking behaviour. Organisation for autism research. Retrieved from

Morey, E. (n.d.). Autism and attention-seeking behaviours: What you can do to stop the cycle. The autism site news. Retrieved from

Reeve, C. (n.d.). But she gets so much attention. Why is she still misbehaving?. Autism classroom News & Resources. Retrieved from

Whiting, F. (2021). Throwing [Image]. Baby Centre. Retrieved from

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