How to Avoid Giving Attention to an Attention-Seeking Behavior

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I teach 3rd grade and I recently had a student purposely roll around in mud on the playground. I had no idea what to do and I let my frustration be known. I had to teach and I had a nine-year-old standing in front of me covered head to toe with mud, and that made me react in a way that may not have been most effective. What would you have done? -Becky, Evansville, Indiana


Ah, children. What purpose do they serve? Sometimes, especially in schools, in May, it’s hard to remember a good answer to this question.

It is safe to assume that this kid has been using negative behaviors to get what he wants– in this case, lots of attention and perhaps control of an adult’s emotions– for a long while. Notice that the way I deal with this situation (and I have dealt with this situation as a teacher) does not give the kid:

1. Control over my emotions

2. More attention than I am giving clean kids

3. A pass to get out of work

Also notice that I do not own his problem and I do not add to any embarrassment he might eventually feel about looking like he just escaped from Shawshank.

Kid Whisperer (as he approaches his students who are lined up on the playground): Hey everyone. I hope you had a great recess. Feel free to talk until we get into the hallway.

Kid Whisperer leads his students to the classroom without giving any attention to the ball of mud.

Kid Whisperer: (with a smile, as Kid walks through the classroom door) Oh, boy. Please go to the spot in the back of the room where kids go when they have to get themselves together before they return to the learning area. Feel free to come back and learn with us as soon as you have solved your problem. Please don’t sit in the chair back there or any other chair until you can do so without getting mud on anything. Feel free to solve your problem in any way that does not cause a problem. Good luck. We want you to be with us. (turning to the class) ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT MY FRIENDS!!!!!! WHO IS READY TO LEARN ABOUT USING DIALOGUE AND DESCRIPTIONS OF ACTIONS THOUGHTS, AND FEELINGS TO DEVELOP EXPERIENCES AND EVENTS OR SHOW THE RESPONSE TO CHARACTERS AND SITUATIONS?!??!!? CAN I GET A WOOP WOOP!?!?!

Kid walks to the back of the room and stands, now without a smirk. As he begins to teach, Kid Whisperer can now enjoy himself because he knows that he has done his job: he is allowing the natural consequences of intentionally rolling in the mud to befall Kid so that he will learn not to next time, he gave the problem back to Kid, and he is teaching all of the clean children whose parents are paying taxes so that their kids can learn how to write according to common core standards.

Kid is free to solve his problem by making it possible to sit and learn without getting mud on anything. Possible solutions could be cleaning with wet wipes, getting new clothes from the nurse’s office, lining his chair with paper towels or a trash bag, or just rejoining the class while standing at his desk. Regardless, it doesn’t really matter, because it isn’t my problem. He will still be held responsible for all work that he misses. If he gets mud on anything, he will be required to clean it up now or at a later time.

Kid Whisperer can use questions to guide Kid to solve his problems in these or other ways when he has time. Academic instruction is the priority. Handling this situation in this way says to Kid: “This is your problem, and the best way to get a fun, exciting teacher is to sit down, be quiet, and remain clean as a whistle.”