ABA Therapy

Navigating Attention-Seeking Behavior: A Practical Guide to Positive Change

Attention-seeking behavior is a common challenge, whether in children, adolescents, or adults. It’s essential to understand that behavior is a form of communication, a way individuals express their needs and desires. In this blog, we’ll explore effective strategies for managing attention-seeking behavior, with a focus on reducing inappropriate actions and fostering more positive alternatives.

Understanding Behavior:

To address attention-seeking behavior, it’s crucial to recognize that behavior is observable and measurable—actions like walking, talking, typing, building, and yelling. These behaviors serve as a means of communication, occurring for specific reasons and often following patterns. By identifying the function of behavior, we can develop targeted strategies for intervention.

Functions of Behavior:

Behavior serves four primary functions: sensory, escape, attention, and tangible. Sensory-driven behavior seeks pleasurable experiences through taste, sight, sound, smell, or touch. Escape behavior aims to avoid or alleviate uncomfortable situations, noises, or stimuli. Attention-seeking behavior seeks interaction, whether positive or negative, from peers or caregivers. Tangible-driven behavior seeks access to specific items or activities.


Reinforcement and Punishment:

Understanding reinforcement and punishment is key to modifying behavior. Reinforcement strengthens a behavior, making it more likely to reoccur, while punishment weakens a behavior, reducing its likelihood. In ABA Reinforcement is like a high-five for good behavior, making it happen more. While punishment is like saying, “Let’s not do that again,” and it makes behavior less likely.

Lessening Inappropriate Behavior:

One approach to reduce inappropriate attention-seeking behavior is through extinction. Extinction occurs when reinforcement for a specific behavior is withheld. It’s important to note that during this process, a replacement behavior must be taught to fill the communication gap. For example, if a kiddo does something to get attention, we teach them a better way, like asking nicely and saying please. Extinction may lead to an extinction burst—a temporary increase in the undesired behavior—which underscores the importance of consistency. However, extinction should not be used for behaviors that may cause harm or danger.

Increasing Appropriate Behavior:

To foster positive change, focus on increasing appropriate behavior through replacement strategies. This involves identifying related skills that serve the same purpose as maladaptive behavior but are faster, easier, and socially acceptable. For example, let’s imagine a kid who tends to interrupt others when they’re talking. We can focus on increasing appropriate behavior through a replacement strategy. Instead of interrupting the kid learns a related skill – raising their hand to signal they have something to say. This new approach achieves the same goal of expressing but in a way that’s quicker, easier and socially acceptable.


DRO/DRA/DRI: Differential reinforcement techniques

These differential reinforcement techniques involve reinforcing specific behaviors to achieve behavior change.
Let’s break down some cool tricks to make behavior magic happen!

Differential Reinforcement of Other Behaviors (DRO): Reinforce when the undesired behavior is not occurring. For instance, reinforce a child when they are not engaging in disruptive behavior.
For example, you desire to prevent your child to use screaming as an attention seeking behavior, then you celebrate and reinforce every time they choose a quieter way to get noticed.

Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible Behaviors (DRI): Reinforce behaviors that cannot happen simultaneously with the undesired behavior. If a child cannot stand and sit at the same time, reinforce sitting to discourage standing.
If you pick sitting on a chair instead of standing up, these can’t happen at the same time. The reinforcement needs to take place when the child is on their chair.

Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behaviors (DRA): Reinforce a replacement behavior that can coexist withthe undesired behavior. For example, if your kiddo usually acts up, we can teach them a better way. Let’s say instead of being disruptive when they feel tired while doing homework, they ask for a break. Then you reinforce asking for the break when they really need it.

Teaching New Skills:

Empower individuals by teaching new skills that serve as alternatives to attention-seeking behavior. This may include teaching them to request attention appropriately, wait for attention, accept alternative solutions, or accept ‘no’ as a response.


Managing attention-seeking behavior requires a multifaceted approach, combining an understanding of behavior functions, reinforcement principles, and targeted intervention strategies. By lessening inappropriate behavior through extinction and increasing appropriate behavior through replacement and reinforcement, individuals can learn new, more effective ways to communicate their needs. Ultimately, the goal is to create a positive and supportive environment that promotes healthy interactions and relationships.