Craving Attention

When I was child, I was bratty at times.  I craved attention, and I was well aware that I could immediately get attention by misbehaving, but that it took much longer to get attention by being obedient. (Plus, I realized that getting attention for being good was not guaranteed.)  Consequently, I pestered my teachers, showed off for my peers, and provoked my sister and brother.  My attitude frequently got me into trouble and I was often scolded and punished, but one obnoxious moment and one consequence stood out above the rest.

I was seven years old and was playing happily with my cousins in the backyard of their split-level house.  We were horsing around, but in an acceptable way.  My cousin Stephen, who was twelve at the time, was lying on his back with his legs extended in the air.  My cousin Mimi (my age) and I took turns sitting on Stephen’s feet, and then he would bend his legs, and with a surge of energy, he would push up so that we flew off of his feet and landed on the grass.  I was having a great time.

On one of Mimi’s turns, Stephen threw her off of his feet when she wasn’t expecting it, and she cried and cried.  I thought that her reaction was babyish and I wanted to show off, so I said, “Stephen, throw me off when I’m not ready.”  That is exactly what Stephen did.  I flew off, and instead of landing on my feet, I landed on my left arm and broke the two bones in my forearm.  I cried – no doubt, more than Mimi did.  My aunt came outdoors and eventually used a rolled up magazine as a temporary splint.  I went to the hospital, where the doctors gave me anesthesia and set the bones.  I was frightened and ashamed.  At the time, I thought God punished me for showing off.  (I would be less harsh and less cosmic on myself now.)

After breaking my arm, I still yearned to get attention.  I thought that with my arm in a cast, I would be respected.  (Yes, respected — that was the way I thought as a child.) People were very compassionate about my having a broken arm, but I soon learned that the attention wasn’t worth the pain.  People said kind things the first few days, but then I was stuck with my arm in a cast for six weeks, and everyone else pretty much forgot about it.

I think about my misbehavior and need for attention when I teach unruly kids.  I don’t know their particular reasons for craving attention, but I think the desire to be seen and acknowledged is the foundation for a lot of trouble in the classroom.  I try to be compassionate and patient with the kids who misbehave, to avoid judging them poorly (who am I to judge?), and to give them positive attention when I see the opportunity.  My attitude doesn’t solve all the discipline problems, but it helps.

5 thoughts on “Craving Attention

  1. Very effective- using your childhood memory and relating it to understanding your students with compassion. But I also want to compliment your wry humor- less cosmic now, positive behavior not guaranteeing attention, the cast lasting longer than the sympathy… you also amused your reader.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I absolutely agree with you. Children all crave attention. Some have figured out, like you did, that you get it faster when you misbehave. I believe this is one of the greatest challenges to teaching and raising children to be productive adults! And very little is written about it so thank you for your well written reminder!

    Liked by 1 person

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