Why language matters when we talk about behaviour


The term 'attention seeker' is often whispered in the corridors, in the staffroom, and even at times in the classroom, by adults referring to the 'behaviour' of students.

I've always thought it an unfortunate term as it portrays the child or young person as seeking attention just to 'disrupt' or 'hog' the adult's attention, gaining them an unfortunate and lasting reputation.

Over the years there has been an effort by those of us working with or supporting children and young people who display behaviours that challenge to move the conversation on. Instead of seeing 'naughty' children we now recognise Behavioural, Emotional and Social Difficulties (BESD) and, more recently, we understand challenging behaviours can form part of Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) needs, recognised by Statements of Need (EHCPs).

Of course, challenging behaviours are also associated with ADHD, Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC), Sensory Impairment Conditions, as well as a consequence of experiences such as abuse, domestic violence, separation or divorce, grief, or unmet basic needs such as hunger, sleep and environmental needs.

What this all indicates is that the term 'attention seeker' no longer has a place in our understanding of the behaviour displayed by children and young people.

Rather than attaching behaviour and a reputation to children and young people let's use the more appropriate term 'attention needy' which describes a child or young person as needing attention based on their circumstances and experiences. Let's provide the appropriate care and continue to try to meet their needs in the corridors, in the classroom and in our discussions in the staffroom.

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