By Emily Kircher-Morris, LPC
A child keeps kicking his brother's car seat, even after his mom has asked him to stop.
The class clown keeps interrupting the teacher with off-topic and mildly inappropriate comments.
A preteen girl crumples her homework and dramatically hides her face in her arms on her desk.
A young boy has a meltdown because he is told they are having cookies instead of ice cream for dessert.
When trying to figure out what is behind these problematic behaviors, parents and teachers may come to the conclusion the child is engaged in negative attention-seeking. They come to the conclusion that the best response is to ignore or give a negative consequence for the behavior.
Many people feel that attention-seeking behavior is a negative trait. The attention the child is seeking is unearned and the result of a child being overly emotional and dramatic. The reaction may be to ignore the behavior or even give a negative consequence to the child.
I'd like to suggest a different way to look at attention-seeking behavior. If we consider all behavior to be communication and ask ourselves, "What is the child needing from this interaction?" we may find some ideas of how to handle the behavior.
Let's reframe attention-seeking as reassurance-seeking.
Their behavior is saying:
Am I alone? Do you love me? Am I worthwhile? Even if I act this way, will you stick with me?
We all need attention once in a while. We may seek it in positive ways, through accomplishments and helping others. The reassurance we get from those acknowledging us can keep us going. Sometimes kids don't have the language or emotional regulation skills to get their needs met in the most convenient way for us.
But, when we remind ourselves the attention-seeking is really reassurance-seeking, we build our relationship with the child and can help them learn more appropriate ways to seek that reassurance from us in the future.
By Karen Gniadek, PLPC
I clearly remember the day my daughter came home from school with a letter informing me that she had qualified for reading intervention. I was shocked and felt like a failure as a mother. After all, I was a stay-at-home mom and former special education teacher. I thought I had done everything right to set her up for success: I read to her from before birth on, took her on weekly trips to the library, exposed her educationally enriching experiences, and fostered her interests. How could this be happening?!
After only the first semester of first grade in reading intervention, my daughter’s teacher assured me that she had caught up and was working on grade level. And she did remain near grade level reading throughout school, yet I knew there were areas in which she was still struggling, including: memorizing math facts; spelling, reading out loud, test anxiety, and memorizing facts associated with history or science. I will admit that I often lacked compassion when working with her at home. I wanted to be patient and supportive, but was frustrated when couldn’t she recognize that a word she read two sentences before was the same word she was seeing now or that 6 x 8 = 48 (for goodness sake it rhymes). FYI - rhyming is something that dyslexics often struggle with.
The answer lies in dyslexia. The truth is that many parents and children do not realize that it is impacting them. Oftentimes, people develop compensatory skills which hide their weaknesses.
Dyslexia is defined as a learning disability in reading that is neurobiological in origin and affects phonetic (letter sound) recognition, word decoding, and spelling. In short, students will be disfluent readers who have difficulty applying the strategies necessary to sound out words. There is much more to dyslexia, but I will go into this more in another blog. It is estimated that 20% of the overall population has dyslexia at some level. Like most brain differences, the severity of dyslexia symptoms spans a continuum from mild to severe. Those most severely impacted are often identified in school and helped via the IEP or 504 process. Those moderately to mildly impacted oftentimes go undiagnosed and unserved. It is these students for whom the new Missouri dyslexia law hopes to help.
The law went into effect this school year, 2018-2019. It has three major components. The first component requires districts to screen all students in grades kindergarten through three for dyslexia. Students who via the screening are found to have delays in reading possibly related to dyslexia will be monitored for reading growth and should receive “reasonable accommodations” in the classroom. The final component mandates that all teachers receive two hours of professional development about dyslexia.
Notably missing from the law is a requirement for schools to offer specific dyslexia reading interventions. With that said, the final recommendations of the task force tasked with developing recommendations on how districts should implement this law put forth numerous recommendations on the best types of instruction to remediate those students fitting a dyslexic profile. The final recommendations of this task force were completed in October 2017 and can be found on Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s website. Districts have the freedom to choose which screening devices to use, who should screen the students, and how to accommodate and/or remediate students flagged as demonstrating characteristics of a reader struggling due to dyslexia.
What, then, is a parent or caregiver to do?
Karen Gniadek is under the clinical supervision of Andrea Schramm, LPC (MO #2013041567)