Closer and Quieter – How To Manage Attention-Seeking Behaviour.

Two heads, one bigger and one smaller, are facing the same way with the bigger head behind the smaller one. There is a speech bubble coming from the bigger head with text that says "closer and quieter".

As teachers, we’ve all had students who seem to just act up because they get a kick out of it. The students who like to get on your nerves, who seem to thrive on getting a rise out of you. How do you manage these students?

These students seek your attention regardless of whether it is positive or negative, and you using your go-to behaviour management strategies is exactly what they want. They will argue with you, make a big fuss and show off in front of their friends until things escalate out of control. This is where getting closer and quieter can have a real impact.

What is attention-seeking behaviour?

Attention-seeking behaviour has become a bit of a catch-all term for unmanageable problem behaviour in students. There is very little research yet a great deal of consensus around what it looks like and what it means. 

The term “attention-seeking” has become a bit of a dismissive term. It’s often used to disregard a student’s needs and experiences and paint them as a narcissist. If you couldn’t guess, I really don’t like the term. 

See more: Why Your Students Are Not “Attention-Seekers”.

Everyone seeks attention. Whether you admit it or not, everyone regularly seeks attention from those they love, those they respect, and just those that they deal with day-to-day. Some young people in our schools feel very ignored and act out to fulfil their need to matter in someone else’s life.

This becomes a problem when a student finds their value in the entertainment of their peers. This isn’t necessarily a problem in itself, except when it prevents the rest of the class from settling and learning.

Why don’t most behaviour management strategies work?

Many behaviour management strategies actually give the student needing attention what they want, encouraging them to amp up the poor behaviour next time. What many of these students want is to escalate the situation, and if they can get you to lose your temper and yell then they’ve won. 

Even something like having the student removed from the class can give attention and reinforce the behaviour. If needing attention is the root cause of poor behaviour, you need to be very careful about what you do to manage it.

The “Closer and Quieter” strategy.

What you really want to do with these students is build connection. You want them to understand that they can have your attention without needing the attention of everyone else in the class too. 

This strategy is exactly what it says on the tin – whatever you’re going to do, do it closer and quieter. 

If you have a student getting distracted from their work, don’t call out to them across the room. Get up, walk slowly up to them until you’re right behind them and very quietly tell them to get back on task. 

If you have a student bouncing around the room, make your way over to them without any fuss and tell them to go and sit down quietly enough so that only they can hear. 

This strategy doesn’t only work with direct instruction either. Getting closer and quieter can also work really well for preventative behaviour management strategies such as giving praise, suggesting an extension or alternate activity or giving a student a special job to do. 

See more: 5 Strategies for Relief Teachers to Quickly Build Rapport with Students.

Why does it work?

Just like with any other teaching strategy, this isn’t going to work every time, in every context or with every student. Getting closer and quieter is a good way to tweak your current behaviour management strategies in favour of de-escalation and building some connection with your students who are seeking it. Some teachers find that this strategy can be used to intimidate some students, which may work for you depending on the teaching persona that you adopt. Regardless of what you want the emotional impact to be, getting closer and quieter conveys that you’re serious and the situation is personal.

See more: How to Manage Attention-Seeking Behaviour in School Students.

Elise is an enthusiastic and passionate Australian teacher who is on a mission to inspire and support fellow educators. With over a decade of experience in the classroom, Elise leverages her expertise and creativity to provide valuable insights and resources through her blog. Whether you're looking for innovative lesson ideas, effective teaching strategies, or just a dose of inspiration, Elise has got you covered.

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