We are on the A of SEAT. A is for attention!
If you’re a little confused and don’t know what we’re talking about please refer to old blog posts. If you have questions for me, please don’t hesitate to comment and ask below. My goal is to make this as clear and as simple as possible. I tried avoiding the technical language and making it more general, but it’s definitely been hard… So yes, ask away, if you need anything better explained.
Attention seeking behaviors. I’d say everyone does this to a certain degree. So when we talk about decreasing attention seeking behaviors, we’re talking about the ones that get in the way of functioning effectively —whether it be socially, academically, or occupationally. We’re talking about all forms of attention: giving eye contact, talking to the person, gesturing to the person, even indirect attention (talking about the person while they can hear you talking about them).
Let me give you some examples from my own personal experience (of course, these are not their real names):
- When Haley’s mother leaves the playroom to do chores (A), Haley throws her toys at the wall (B). Haley’s mother then comes back the playroom and tells Haley, “We don’t do that to our toys.” (C)
- When Jason’s father gets a phone call (A), Jason starts screaming in a high pitched voice (B). Jason’s father gives Jason a “look” (the ‘you’re in trouble’ look), and shushes him (C).
- When Eddy and his mother are the grocery store (A), Eddy pulls his mother’s hair (B). Eddy’s mother puts his hand down and gives him a kiss (C).
Refer to the post The ABCs for a better overview of what antecedent, behavior, consequence mean and how to record them.
It’s clear that what maintains the attention seeking behavior is attention. For example 1, Haley’s rewarded since Mom comes back to check on her. In example 2, Jason’s rewarded since Dad gives Jason eye contact and shushes him. Yes, giving “the you’re in trouble look,” shushing, putting a kiddo in timeout are all forms of attention, even if we assume the kiddo would decrease what they’re doing since they’re getting in trouble. If the primary function is to gain attention, these things don’t matter, they already gained your attention. In our last example, the maintaining consequence is Mom giving Eddy a kiss, assuming that Mom withdrew eye contact while putting Eddy’s hand down.
What do we do to decrease these attention seeking tactics?
To prevent the attention seekers from attention seeking:
- Give your person attention noncontingently. Noncontingen—-wha? Let’s break the word down. Noncontingently. Not contingent on anything happen. So let’s say every 15 minutes, you’re going to come up to your person and hug, kiss, compliment, tickle, cuddle, play, dance, sing, do anything with your person. Ya know, give them attention despite of what’s happening. Ideally, of course, you don’t want to pair this with problem behavior.
- What does your person like? What are they interested in talking about? Do what they like with them, talk about what they want to talk about… Get to know them. Building rapport, having a bond with your person is key. I mean, who wants to listen to someone that has their way all the time?
- Catch your person asking for attention appropriately. Acknowledge them saying, “Excuse me,” them waiting, them respecting your space. Notice the good.
- Teach your person how to ask for attention appropriately. Maybe they just don’t know how?
What about when the attention seeking is already happening:
- Withdraw all forms of attention, if possible. If the attention seeking behavior involves serious self injury, of course it’s not feasible to just ignore the behavior. Make sure your person is safe first. If you need to prompt, prompt from behind, withdraw words, and redirect to a safe place.
- Another option is to prompt appropriate words/phrases to seek attention and give attention specifically acknowledging that it was the appropriate words/phrases that got your attention. For example, if your person is biting you for attention, withdraw eye contact while your person is biting, use a visual/verbal prompt and have your person say, “Excuse me, Mom” (or to whoever they’re seeking attention from), and say something like, “I hear you, what is it?”
…And that’s a wrap.