Let's just be real, children are geniuses. They know what they want and how to get it. They aren't negotiators but they have very effective tactics and strategies.
And what do they want a lot of the time?
Attention, your undivided attention.
We've come along way from the 'children should be seen, not heard' mentality. Finally, what we knew intuitively is backed by research. Humans are wired for connection and receiving positive attention from the people important to us is important to human development. But undivided, constant attention is unrealistic. Sometimes moms need to go to the bathroom.
Part of striking the balance between receiving appropriate attention and learning how to self-regulate and be independent is how to get attention.
There are appropriate and inappropriate ways to access attention. Biting, hitting, tantrums.... inappropriate. So what are appropriate ways for your child to get your attention and improve their social skills?
Steps to Access Attention
How you get someone's attention does depend on the situation or social context. If you're in class, then you raise your hand. If it's an emergency, then you shout. You get the idea.
Let's go with the everyday, informal interaction. The mom's on the phone and preschooler approaches type of interaction.
Here is the gist of the strategy: Look, Tap, Address
- Approach the communication partner.
- Initiate and maintain eye contact.
- Tap elbow or shoulder.
- Address communication partner.
- Patiently wait.
Your child probably has a rough outline of what to do in this situation but could use some skill refinement with a step for two. Like instead of yanking on your purse, your child needs to learn to touch your elbow. Or maybe your child is currently yelling when addressing you and needs to practice using 'an inside voice' and saying your name.
Here are some ideas for skill refinement:
- Saying "Excuse me" to unfamiliar individuals.
- Tapping an elbow once or twice, but no more.
- Looking at communication partner when saying their name.
- Maintaining eye contact while waiting for the communication partner to respond.
When I've worked with kiddos on this skill, some of the common difficulties I've noticed are waiting for the communication partner to look at them before starting to talk. Patience is really difficult for everyone, but especially the littles! If you start talking to someone before you have their attention, it can catch them off-guard and feel flustered. Not a great way to start a conversation.
How to Teach Accessing Attention
These are the steps I use when teaching this skill.
- Introduce with a social story.
- Role Play.
- Identify and practice in real life situations.
- Prompt/remind your child to use this skill in real life situations.
- Praise your child for using this strategy independently.
Social stories are fantastic for some many things! The Social Skills Picture Book is a pretty comprehensive book for preschool social skills and includes the steps for activities like personal space, ending a conversation, and dealing with losing a game. Another resource is on this visual on Teachers Pay Teachers.
There are also a lot of books that deal with social skills and are written specifically for preschoolers. Remember "Step 5: Patiently Wait?" This is a tough one for anybody so you can use books like Waiting is Not Easy! to help your child learn strategies to improve their patience. #copingskills
Role playing is so much fun and is a fun way to address any skill on the stop!
When you praise your child, be sure to include what they did well instead of just saying "Good job!" Use specific praise like "Thank you for waiting with a quiet mouth!" or "You did great using your inside voice!"
Social skills like accessing attention are some of my favorite things to teach in the preschool. They are skills our kiddos use literally everyday and that can help them develop friendships, gain confidence, and develop self-reliance.
Thank you for reading!
I do have to give a shout out to my very favorite social skill: joining in on-going play. Ensuring that your child has this skill is very complementary to accessing attention in conversations and is so applicable to real life! #IRL
Want to know the steps for accessing attention and joining in play? Read this!
(P.S. This post contains affiliate links because momma's gotta bring home the bacon. If I do receive a negligible compensation for a qualifying purchase, thank you!)