Why Ignoring Misbehavior Won’t Extinguish It

Students who misbehave to get the teacher's attentionI had just about had it with one of my 3rd graders. All day long it had been one thing after another. Shouting out, clowning around, throwing things, making faces and fart noises, wandering the room… you name it, this student was doing it.

Students who get in your face while you are talkingI finally just about lost it when he walked up to me while I was addressing the class and interrupted me mid-sentence to show me his new watch. Couldn’t he see I was busy? And then I finally realized he was acting out to get attention.

Common wisdom says the way to “extinguish” attention-getting behavior is to ignore it. In my experience, this doesn’t really work. I find what usually happens is the attention-getting misbehavior will keep accelerating until you finally snap and react in some way. Once the misbehaving student gets a reaction, the misbehavior is reinforced, making it more likely to happen again.

Preventative Attention - attention you give a student to prevent attention-getting misbehavior
If you have students who tend to act out to get attention, shower them with attention the moment they arrive in your room, before they’ve had a chance to start misbehaving. Say hello when they walk in. Ask their opinion about something (anything!) Ask them to show another student how to do something. Notice and comment on something they are doing right. Do not be fake and weird about it, but keep it going as consistently as you can for as long as you can.

If your students are already acting out, do what you need to do to stop the misbehavior, then start the positive attention routine as soon as possible. For example, when the 3rd grader tried to show me his watch during direct instruction, I smiled and said, “Show me during recess, honey,” and gestured toward his desk for him to sit down. Then I quickly called on him to answer a question I knew he could answer.

It may seem like this takes a lot of time and energy, and it does. But it takes even more time and energy to deal with all that attention-getting misbehavior all day long while trying to stay positive and maintain your sanity.

Do yourself a favor and give your needy students a little preventative attention. It couldn’t hurt, right?
Why You Can't Extinguish Misbehavior by Ignoring It

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