Giving Attention Seeking Students the Right Kind of Attention

We've all had them in our class. That kid that isn't really a trouble maker, but they just can't seem to do anything by themselves. Instead they want the attention of their peers, you, and anyone else that walks into the room. They are very sweet, but you worry about their independence because they never seem to be doing it themselves. 
Are attention seekers sucking the life out of you in the classroom? Try these ten tips for keeping their need for attention satisfied with positive attention. The 4th and 8th tips are my favorite!

I strongly believe that students who are attention seeking need meaningful connections with those around them. Without that they will continue to act in "needy" ways that will annoy you, and get in their way in the future.

Over my years in the classroom I have come across ten ways to give positive attention to these attention seeking students without increasing my own workload at all. These are simple, but meaningful ways of building interaction between the student, their peers, and you.

1. Make the student the
"Official Collector of All Things!"

This is a win-win for me. I hate collecting things in the classroom, but when a student collects them that means that they get to have an interaction with each and every person in the classroom, and then with me. It really can't get any better than this. I always make sure to thank the student with a little side-hug each time too. This takes care of a task that I couldn't like less, and gives the student a moment in the spotlight with their classmates and me.

For a little extra interaction bonus I will have the student check each paper to make sure that everyone has put their name on it. They love this important job! This doesn't just have to be for papers though, think of every time that you play quiz-quiz-trade or use task cards!

Are attention seekers sucking the life out of you in the classroom? Try these ten tips for keeping their need for attention satisfied with positive attention. The 4th and 8th tips are my favorite! 2. The 2x10 Strategy

This strategy is spending two minutes a day with the student for ten days in a row. I try really hard to do this with all my students the first month or so of school, but for my attention seeking friends, it is important to do some up-keep throughout the year. I always make sure to choose a time when both of us are available, and it won't be taking away from anything. My favorite times are as students are arriving in the morning, but I have also used time at recess, while we are waiting for others to get drinks/use the restroom, or while a student is waiting in line to get their lunch. 

The key to this strategy is to give the student your undivided attention, and have a short conversation about anything they want. This year I have spent a lot of time talking and learning about video games, because that is the number one interest for my special friend.

3. Leave the Student Positive Notes

I know what you are thinking, "But you said it would be no extra work!" I know, but when I say positive notes I mean a sticky note saying, "Great Job!" with your signature. Thirty seconds right? That includes looking around your desk for the sticky notes! It may sound silly, and not worth it, but look through their desk later and you will find a pile of these notes saved up. It really is the little things that can make the biggest difference.

4. Give the Student a Special Job

I am guessing that you already have class jobs, but this is a little different. In our classroom all the basics like line leader, mail delivery, and electrician are taken care of, but there is always something that you are doing that a student could be doing instead. Think about something that you either don't like doing, or maybe you forget to do it on a regular basis. 

For me it is turning off our Scentsy. This may seem trivial, but I gave this student a little pep talk on how I am always forgetting to turn it off, but it is vital that it is turned off every day. It is for all of our safety after all! So, at the end of each day my student turns off our Scentsy. I don't worry about it being left on, and it gives me another opportunity to thank my student for being responsible!

Are attention seekers sucking the life out of you in the classroom? Try these ten tips for keeping their need for attention satisfied with positive attention. The 4th and 8th tips are my favorite!  5. Share a Special Signal with Your Student

Carol Burnett and her mother shared the ear tug. You and your student can share a special signal too. The important thing about this one is to make it easy enough for you to do while teaching, but unique enough that your student will know that it is meant just for them. 
My version of this is tapping my pointer finger to my nose three times, usually while looking like I am pondering something very deep. The best part of this is that you can actually use it with several students at the same time... gasp!!!! Multi-tasking a special signal, who would dream of that?
With each student I make sure to tell them that this is a secret signal that is between us, they don't need to know that "us" is them, me, and four other students in the class!

6. Eye Contact

I know that you look at your students. I know you do, and that you probably think I am crazy, but have you ever been in an audience of hundreds, or thousands, and the speaker/singer/performer made sustained contact with you for about 3-5 seconds and you felt like the only one in the room? Don't you want your student to feel like that? 
It sounds easy, but try it. 3-5 seconds feels like an eternity when you are trying to work the room, but it will be an eternity for your special student.

7. Call on the Student Every Time They Raise Their Hand

If your student is anything like mine, and I am willing to bet they are, they blurt out. They blurt out a lot. I mean, you have probably considered involving some duct tape, and I applaud you for not, because let's be honest, the thought has crossed my mind too. In this instance, this student needs to be recognized every time they raise their hand. I know you have other students, and I know that it is frustrating to always go back to the same person when you need to gauge how the lesson is going with everyone, but this one is really important to teaching the student that you will get to them. 
SO, call on the student every time they raise their hand, BUT it doesn't have to be first, and it shouldn't be. Gradually over time you will be able to recognize more and more students before you get to them, because the student realizes that in fact, you WILL, get to them.

8. Have Student Demonstrate How to Do an Assignment 

We all like to feel like a rockstar. Give this opportunity to your student to get that feeling! When you are traveling the room and see that your student is rocking an assignment have them show their work to the class. This might mean displaying the paper on the document camera, show a problem on the board, or maybe play the role of a peer helper for those struggling.

9. Compliment Everything You Can

I don't know about you, but compliments make my day better however silly they are. A "Nice shirt!" can perk me right up, even when I know for fact that I dripped soup down the front of it at lunch, and you have got to be kidding me. 
Your students feel the same way. Compliment their haircut, their shirt, their new shoes, their work, or anything else you can think of!

10. Make Them Your Messenger

I don't know what it is about being the messenger, but it is a highly coveted position. It is for this reason that I don't include it in my "regular" class jobs. This task gives your student a triple whammy of attention. First they get attention from you, then they get the boost of knowing that you trust them to complete the task, and finally they get attention from the recipient. The special bonus to this one is that it usually provides you with a few minutes without this student to regroup if necessary. 

I hope that these ideas have sparked something that will help in your classroom. It is already February and you can do it!

If you are looking for more ideas on helping attention seeking students I recommend the following books:

No-Drama Discipline
(affiliate links)

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  1. I love the sticky note idea! I am going to start this. Thanks for sharing!!!

  2. This is such a great post! I can implement soooo many of these for some of my squirmy little friends :o) Thanks Alyssa!!
    Munchkins Inc.

  3. This is a GREAT post! Thank you!

  4. This is a great post! Thank you!

  5. Great post with thoughtful ideas. Thank you!

  6. These are all great ideas- but, please, look into getting rid of the Scentsy. My daughter did an entire Science Fair Project about how TOXIC these things are. ALL the classroom wax, spray, and candle scents contain things called phthalates (of course they are not required to put it on the label) Phthalates can cause brain damage if used over a sustained amount of time. Well, read into it, you won't want it around your students or yourself. I have asthma (so do a lot of my kiddos) so, in our district, we're not even supposed to use air fresheners/wear perfumes to school in case it sets off a child's asthma or allergies.

    1. Thank you for bringing this to my attention!

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. What about a student who tries to get attention from another student "all the time"? He is constantly trying to get attention from other students. It could be just saying something out loud to get a reaction the another student.

    1. I have heard Jim Carey say that he had a teacher that made a deal with him--if he made it through class without acting up, he could do a 5 minute stand up routine in front of the class. It helped him hone his craft.

  9. Hi Carolyn,
    That is a really tough one. I would still try some of the above suggestions to try and build a relationship between you and the student first. Take it from there. Unfortunately there is no quick fix for attention seeking issues. I hope that this helps.


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