DEAR POLLY, One child in my class is always seeking attention through one annoying behavior or another just about every day Miranda is 3-years-old, cute, and smart, I am sure I give her lots of recognition each day Her parents both work and she is an only child, so I'm assuming she gets enough attention. How can I help her?

It's important to remember that a young child never thinks she gets enough attention. Even children who have a parent with them 24/7 will sometimes use attention-seeking behaviors. We usually see this even more markedly in children who have siblings and feel they have to compete for parental attention (the 'feeling and resulting behaviors often carry over to school), and in children who are often in the care of others, such as caregivers at home or teachers in their preschool programs.

Ignore or Distract

Yesterday when I went to get my grandson, Owen, in the toddler room at school, a small group of six children, including Owen, were seated at a round table peacefully enjoying their snack. All of them, that is, except Owen. Instead of just eating his snack, he was enjoying spitting. It was obvious that he was showing off his new skill. Luckily his skill was not great enough to get anything out of his mouth, but the spitting act and sound effects were well developed. And they clearly displeased the teacher. She patiently told him several times that we only spit when we brush our teeth. This was a good response, but it may have gone over the head of a 21-month-old. If no harm is being done, I tend to ignore attention-seeking behaviors, or provide an interesting distraction, regardless of the form they take. Here are some examples:

Mozi crept up to me and flapped her hands in my face while I was reading a story. I stood up, added drama to the story by strolling around the group, and deflected Mozi's gestures without a word about behavior.

Xavior constantly interrupts even the shortest lessons with comments. Before we begin, I say to him, "You always have interesting things to say. I'll tell you when it's time for you to talk about this." If his words pop out before his official turn, I signal him by putting my finger to my lips.

Strategies to Try

The less said about an annoying behavior the better, because calling attention to it is rewarding it. Attention is what the child wants. I've mentioned three ways of coping with this: introduce an interesting distraction, continue doing what you're doing without comment but relocate, and, where it's applicable, plan ahead with the child and let him know that you'll tell him when it's his turn. Sometimes you have to mention the attention-seeking behavior directly, but you can still avoid rewarding it with a lot of interaction.