By Shari Karmen, TLC Therapeutic Services Manager and Occupational Therapist
“Mom! Mom!” (Louder, with a tug now) “Moooommm!”
Have you ever been in this situation while you were talking to someone else? I know I have! Here at TLC, we teach kids how to get attention appropriately. It is a useful, life-long skill that kids, and some adults even, have to learn.
When kids are trying to get attention, they will frequently whine, yell, and throw themselves on the floor. All of this just to get your attention. Eventually, you give in and attend to this inappropriate behavior. The child learns that this behavior gets them what they want. We call this reinforcing negative behavior, and the end result is that the behavior never goes away, but only strengthens.
How can you change a child who uses this negative behavior to get attention? Teach your child how to get your attention appropriately. At TLC, we teach kids to say “tap tap” while they tap you or a friend on the shoulder to get your attention. You can then politely take a break from your conversation to attend to the child. This is an appropriate way for a child to get your attention. To make the skill stick, it needs to be used in all situations with consistency. Appropriate attention-seeking needs to be taught and reinforced at home, school, and out in the community.
To practice, get down on your child’s level, tap her on the shoulder, get eye contact, and start your conversation. Then practice this over and over in pretend play, on the playground, and at the grandparents’ home. Let your child know that you are happy with how they are getting your attention. You could say, “Wow, I like the way you tapped me on my shoulder to get my attention!” When you see your child having difficulty, you could say, “It looks like you need something. Tap me on the shoulder and I will be happy to help you.”
Teaching this skill now reinforces positive behavior for the long-term. It reduces challenging behavior and helps your child to get their needs met in a constructive way. This, and many other positive behavior support approaches are taught through the Pyramid Plus Approach, a philosophy that we at TLC have adopted. Go to the Teaching Assistance Center for Social Emotional Intervention (TACSEI) for more helpful hints.
As I’m writing this at my desk at TLC, my little three year old friend Charlotte is sitting next to me and coloring. She just turned to me, said “tap tap” while she touched my shoulder and then showed me the pink flower she was coloring!