May 12, 2018 10:17 pm

“Attention Seeking”: Is that a fair judgement?

A para-professional, friend, and overall wonderful person explained to me in school one day that the child I was working with was “attention seeking”.

Seeing an opportunity, I showed her exactly WHY this child was NOT ATTENTION SEEKING.

We gave him all the attention he needed. He called the shots. It was a complete disaster for everyone involved, especially the child.

He was not “seeking attention”. He wasn’t escaping, avoiding, only wanting to do what he wants to do, or being manipulative. He was completely dysregulated. When a child is dysregulated, there is no reasoning with them, and forcing compliance may only escalate challenging or aggressive behaviors. Her judgement that the child was “attention seeking” implied that he was being disruptive because that was working out better for him than following along with the activity. That implication is simply not true.

She quickly realized that she was only saying he was attention seeking because that’s what she was told for so long. She got sucked into believing it. When you hear something repeatedly for so long, you start to believe it as true. It’s not true. Labeling a behavior “attention seeking” is a shallow analysis. It’s also completely unfair to a child who is desperately asking for help because he’s having a hard time. He’s asking for help through his behaviors, because he can’t communicate in any other way at that moment that he’s struggling to meet our expectations. He wants to do well. He really does. He just can’t. To just pass off his cry for help as “attention seeking” is void of empathy, unfair and inhumane.

A child in a tantrum, meltdown, shut down, crisis or dysregulated state needs our support, not our judgmental labels.

Meet them where they are. Change your expectations temporarily. Help them get regulated. When they’re ready to learn, you’ll know it! They’ll show you they’re ready!


Greg Santucci, MS OTR

Executive Director

Power Play Pediatric Therapy

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