What Does a Whole Child Approach to Education Look Like?
March 29, 2012 | Volume 7 | Issue 13
Table of Contents
Are You Meeting Your Students' Needs for Love and Belonging?
"Ignore him—he just wants attention!"
How many times have you heard a teacher say something like this? Attention-seeking behavior has a bad reputation in our schools, and it can often lead to difficult classroom management challenges. Yet Abraham Maslow, the humanistic psychologist, has helped us understand that seeking attention is a way of getting our needs for love and belonging met. The need for human interaction and affection is so strong that it is a kind of hunger—the more children lack these interactions, the harder they will try to get them. And any interactions—even negative ones—are better than none.
Some children, because of a lack of social-emotional skills and competence, are hard to interact with. They may talk back or whine. They may be pushy and demanding. They may lack manners, or constantly put others down. Naturally, teachers and other children begin to avoid them or push them away. This reduces their chances to learn social and emotional skills, and thus begins a downward negative cycle. The result can be children who use challenging behaviors to achieve social interaction.
Notice what the consequences are when children act out inappropriately. Often the teacher gets close, perhaps touching the child (especially young children) by holding an arm, physically removing the child from the area, or even picking the child up. Often, the teacher is at eye level and filled with strong emotions. In this way, the typical reprimand of a misbehaving child is intimate: close, physical, and emotionally intense. Often, children who misbehave frequently are sent to a vice principal, center director, or other disciplinarian, where they get additional one-on-one attention in a more peaceful environment. In any case, the typical result of attention-seeking behavior is, not surprisingly, attention!
So wouldn't it make sense to ignore these behaviors to stop reinforcing them? Well, yes, but only if you increase the amount of positive attention the child gets at other times. The child is hungry for a relationship with you, which can be difficult to develop if you are angry and frustrated with the child. It's natural (but unprofessional) to ignore him—which is why he is using challenging behavior that is hard to ignore. What to do?
- Schedule time to spend with the child. Sit next to him at snack time or invite him to read to you one-on-one. Greet him warmly when he arrives and spend an extra minute or two talking with him at the beginning and end of the day.
- Directly teach the child how to get your positive attention through modeling and practice. Make a list (or chart) with photos that can help the child remember these new skills. You can do this in a small group if you have other children who would benefit.
- Plan ways she can interact with other children in a successful way. Pair her for buddy activities with a child who has excellent social skills.
- Rather than using positive reinforcement involving praise or tangibles like stickers, think of ways to provide rich interactions. Remember, he's hungry, so he needs healthy "meals" of interactions, not "junk food" like quick praise.
- Have honest, authentic interactions. Find out more about her likes, habits, fears, and hopes. Think about connecting.
- Finally, give the process time. As a child's hunger for relationships is fed, you should see a reduction in the attention-seeking behaviors, but it can take a while to change deeply ingrained behaviors. Show that student that he can get your attention more effectively with positive behaviors!
Meeting the strong attention needs of children not only helps them socially but also supports them academically. A recent longitudinal study by Jan Hughes, a professor of school psychology, shows that a nurturing teacher-student relationship has a positive effect on achievement—and the largest effect is on children who have a poor ability to regulate their own behavior. Such children are those who have difficulty controlling impulses, rush through their work, and have trouble planning and organizing. These children are often difficult to establish relationships with; however, in this study, a warm and supportive teacher-student relationship completely compensated for poor regulation. More important, Hughes found that the type of relationship a child had with teachers in the early years affected achievement right up through middle school.
The next time you experience the frustration of a child seeking attention, remember that breaking the cycle of negativity by meeting that need for love and belonging will create long-term opportunities for academic success while also helping you find more joy in teaching.
Muriel Rand is a professor of early childhood education at New Jersey City University. She began her career as a preschool teacher in central New Jersey and now teaches graduate- and undergraduate-level courses in classroom management, working with families, action research, and early literacy education. Connect with Rand on both on the ASCD EDge® social network and her blog, The Positive Classroom, where this blog post, adapted for ASCD Express, first appeared.
ASCD Express, Vol. 7, No. 13. Copyright 2012 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.