427. Children Who Avoid Attention

Most children usually want to be noticed. Ideally, they want positive attention from adults and from other children who also want positive attention, and they quickly learn how to get it. The resulting behavior can be positively positive. And as most of you know, some children, for a variety of reasons, get attention in less ideal ways, often causing trouble and getting more than their fair ration of attention.
But there are also children who don’t want to be noticed. Being the seasoned, veteran attention-getter I am, I don’t understand these children as well as I understand the ones who are more like me. But I’ve taught enough of them, racked my brain enough, read enough, and consulted enough relative experts to have collected a few pointers.
Some children don’t want attention because when they have gotten attention, it’s been the wrong kind. They’ve been abused, and they’ve learned that the way to avoid or decrease that abuse is to make sure they’re not noticed. That’s the first thing I try to check out when I meet a child who doesn’t seem to want attention. Abuse is a complicated issue, and it is the responsibility of every adult who has contact with children to find ways to stop it from happening.
Another possibility is that the child has experienced difficulty doing the things that are expected of him/her. If a child has trouble learning to do what other children do, that child may try to hide the difficulty. If the rest of the class
is challenging enough for a teacher, that teacher may even welcome inconspicuous behavior – may wish it were contagious. But sooner or later – preferably sooner – inconspicuous problems still have to be recognized as problems. Ignored, they can grow.
I still have to leave room for the possibility that some healthy, happy, competent children don’t want a lot of attention. Not being shy myself, I don’t fully understand that phenomenon, but I know and respect adults who used to wish teachers would leave them alone. They didn’t like the kind of publicity they often got in school.
I recently invented an expedient technique to help one child who doesn’t like attention. Like everyone else in the class, there are times when he’s supposed to write. He doesn’t like that. When I’m there for writing time, I sit with him for a minute. I tell him that after he’s written a sentence, I’ll go away if he wants me to. So far, he wants me to, so he gets right to work and writes a sentence. I tell him I’ll come back in a few minutes, and if he’s written another sentence, I’ll go away again if he wants me to.
That technique works for now; he does the writing he’s supposed to do. Maybe getting the work done will get him to feel more competent, and to feel more like fitting in with the rest of the class. But maybe not. It could well be that this game is only a game, and that his resistance to attention is a symptom of problems that require more than my little game. We’ll see.

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