Dear Polly: I'm worried about a 3-year-old in my class. It seems that Doris always needs to be the center of attention. No matter what is going on in the room, Doris wants us to watch her dance, look at what she is painting at the eased admire the block tower she is working on. I wouldn't worry if this happened occasionally, but Doris is constantly calling attention to herself What should I do?

Sometimes what a child wants is what the child needs. It can be as straightforward as that. What do you know about this child's home life? Does Doris have siblings? If she has an older sibling, the adults in the household may direct their remarks and conversations, and focus family schedules and activities, on the older child (or children). This tends to happen. Nobody means to do it, but the oldest-who is usually a better conversationalist-has news that's newer to the parents because they haven't been through it with a child before, and has a complicated schedule into which younger children must fit. If Doris has younger siblings, their baby needs may soak up the family's attention.

Is it possible that Doris's family has an extremely busy schedule? It's all too common these days for children to get lost in the haze of family demands, where everyone is distracted and has limited time at home.

Doris may be hungry for one-on-one attention for good reason! Why not give it to her? Try the following:

1. Make a plan with her that the two of you will have a special time to visit privately right after an activity in your daily schedule. Tell her you would like that because she's such an interesting person and you enjoy her company.

2. Devote five minutes totally to this child. Either leave the room (if you have an assistant), or sit together in an out-of-the-way corner of the room.

3. Look, listen to, and respond authentically to Doris.

Teachers worry that if they can't do something with every child, it's unfair to do it with any child. Fairness is important, and all children need our attention. However, children don't all have the same "special need." For example, since Doris is the only child in your class who demands so much attention, the others are less needy in this particular regard.

What Else Can You Do?

  • From time to time, silently invite Doris to sit on your lap when you are reading to a group. If children want turns doing this, give turns, but make sure that Doris gets "more than her share."
  • Recruit volunteers (parents, senior citizens, older children) and assign each one a child who needs something special (whatever it is) on an individualized basis. The more informal your classroom is, and the more you individualize, which is good for all children, the less odd this will seem to anyone. Encourage Doris to think about what she would like to do with the volunteer when he comes-dictate a story, take a walk around the school, read, and so on.
  • Encourage Doris to accompany you as you walk around helping children, or doing chores.

Even if you're sure that Doris gets all the personal attention she needs at home, and you think she expects too much for a group situation, this might be a good way to begin dealing with her demands.