HomeHealth & BehaviorBehavior & Discipline

Ask the Experts

My son wants to be the center of attention

By Debra Collins, Family therapist


My son loves to be the center of attention at home but especially at school. In doing so, he misses a lot of the instruction from the teacher and then doesn't know what to do. He laughs at inappropriate times and interrupts a lot. At times he becomes rude and disrespectful when the teacher is talking or giving instructions as he won't stop laughing or talking. What can we do to help stop this behavior? His teacher uses a "time-out" corner or puts him in the hallway when he is being disruptive. But that only works some of the time.


You mentioned he loves being the center of attention at home. It's possible that the attention-getting behaviors he learned were cute then, but now get in his way at school.

Children also use those same learned behaviors when they are feeling anxious. For example, once upon a time he did something adorable and you laughed and called in the whole family to witness. He did it again and he got the same result. He begins to learn that that behavior will work in a variety of different circumstances: to distract when he's feeling uncomfortable or soothe when he's wanting connection. In school he is trying what has worked for him in the past. He doesn't have another method.

Children are better at showing us with their behavior what's wrong than by telling us. Make sure that you and the teacher have a clear understanding of what he's trying to achieve. If his acting out is because of learning difficulties then he may need an educational assessment. If he has difficulty with peer relations, he may need opportunities to learn how to get along in group settings.

Time-outs are fine, but nothing works 100 percent of the time. It may help calm him down, or it might reinforce inappropriate ways to connect with the teacher. Give him opportunities to participate and get attention in more positive situations at school and at home by giving him tasks he can easily accomplish. A school counselor might help him identify and tolerate his feelings. This could give him more tools to communicate what may be difficult for him, rather than having to seek attention.

Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"Something else might be going on...the child could have ADHD. Children with ADHD often seek stimulation through attention-getting behaviors. If the behavior is happening both at home and at school, getting an evaluation might be worthwhile. I think we need to be careful in assuming all inappropriate behaviors are learned through reinforcement, as the above answer implies."