Information on this page about the interventions is based on the book, Prevent-Teach-Reinforce: The School-Based Model of Individualized Positive Behavior Support, Second Edition by G. Dunlap, R. Iovannone, D. Kincaid, K. Wilson, K. Christiansen, and P. S. Strain. 

What is the strategy? Why does it work?

The teacher provides positive attention (e.g., positive comments) about what the student is doing and/positive non-verbal behaviors (e.g., smiling, listening to the student). The attention is provided without the need for the student to perform a specific behavior. Students with challenging behaviors do not frequently receive positive attention, so they learn that engaging in challenging behaviors is the most efficient way to gain adult attention. The intervention is designed to build positive student-adult relationships and provide social attention to the student independent of the challenging behavior being performed. Providing positive attention prior to the student engaging in the challenging behavior can make it unnecessary for the student to resort to challenging behavior in order to obtain that attention and may make it more likely that the student will perform desired social or academic behaviors. By using noncontingent attention (NCA), the student learns that the adult cares about them and that he/she does not need to perform challenging behavior to get adult attention.

Functions and antecedents the noncontingent attention intervention works for

  • Being alone or without adult attention triggers challenging behavior
  • Function of behavior is to access adult or peer attention
  • Student responds positively to praise or acknowledgement from the teacher

Steps for Implementation

  1. Identify the routine/context in which student exhibits challenging behavior.
    • Ex: When (e.g., time of day, specific event/activity), where, and/or with whom (e.g., specific person, classmate, staff). This can be identified through FBA antecedent data.
  2. Develop a list of positive comments/non-verbal behaviors/social attention delivery that are appropriate for use within the identified routine/context, provide the attention function, and fit the teacher’s style.
    • This can include a script for the teacher and other adults to follow.
  3. Decide on physical proximity of teacher to student when delivering NCA.
  4. Determine length of the routine in which NCA will be delivered, decide on frequency of NCA delivery, and develop a schedule.
    • Options include: Fixed schedule, variable schedule, or specific positive/negative ratio.
    • Ex: Fixed schedule → for a 15-minute routine, the teacher could provide NCA every 3 minutes.
  5. Decide how the teacher will be prompted to deliver NCA (e.g., timer with a tone, silent vibrating timer, smiling faces placed around the room).
    • If using a timer, decide on placement in the room.
  6. Describe how the teacher will behave when student exhibits challenging behavior.
    • Avoid acknowledging challenging behavior.
  7. Establish criteria to be used for changing the schedule of NCA delivery (i.e., fading).
    • Ex: After NCA is provided every 3 minutes in a 15-minute routine for 5 days and student’s challenging behavior decreases to specified level → NCA delivery may be changed to every 5 minutes.
    • This procedure should make gradual reductions so that student will not feel the need to revert to challenging behavior to get sufficient social attention
  8. Establish termination criterion.
    • Coy & Kostewicz (2018) recommend using termination criterion that matches a socially acceptable amount for reinforcement for the classroom. For instance, the teacher identifies a reinforcement rate that is practical to continually implement within the classroom (e.g., every 10 minutes). Once NCA delivery is faded to this criterion, the formal plan is discontinued and the teacher continues delivering NCA every 10 minutes.

Considerations for Implementation (Coy & Kostewicz, 2018)

  • If the student exhibits challenging behavior just before NCA is to be delivered (i.e., at the end of an interval):
    • Withhold delivery of the reinforcer until about 10 seconds after the student stops engaging in the challenging behavior. Once delivered, the next NCA interval begins.
  • If there are brief escalations in challenging behavior:
    • The teacher monitors yet ignores these escalations and delivers reinforcement according to the predetermined schedule.

Troubleshooting: Possible explanations for a lack of improvement using NCA

  1. The student is not receiving enough reinforcement. If possible, try increasing the rate (number of times) that you provide NCA. This may be all that is needed for the student to engage in more desired behaviors.
  2. The teacher continues to give the student attention for challenging behavior. Sometimes teachers don’t realize how much attention they pay (even unwittingly) to students who misbehave for attention-seeking reasons. Reflect on your own classroom interactions with the student. If you discover while you are using NCA that you are still giving the student attention for acting out, you should:
    • Continue to use NCA
    • Make an extra effort to respond neutrally to, or simply ignore, the student’s attention-seeking behaviors.

How to implement this strategy in multiple ways (examples & resources)

  • Positively greet students at the door: as students enter, greet each student with their name and either an academic or non-academic check-in, and direct them to the first activity.
    • Academic check-ins: these help you remind students what they need to do to be successful in class that day
      • “Your homework last night was so strong! I’m impressed by how much effort you put into it.”
      • “You were such a supportive partner yesterday; I can’t wait to see you do that again today!”
    • Non-academic check-ins: these help you establish a personal connection through a brief conversation
      • “How was your basketball game last night?”
      • “How was lunch today?”
      • “How are you feeling? I’m excited to see you back to your usual energy today!”
    • High five, hug, or shake hands with students as they enter (or even invent fun handshakes)
    • Positively greet students at the door – This brief explains why this practice works and how to implement it.
    • Greeting Students at the Door – Is It Worth the Extra Time? (4:02)
  • 5 minute chat with students – This resource through the steps of deliberately checking in with a student through a 5 minute chat to encourage open communication and build connections.
  • Use the 2×10 strategy
  • Noncontingent attention tip sheet
  • Prior to giving a demand that triggers challenging behavior, approach the student and ask how their morning or day is going. Intermix open ended questions, positive comments, and appropriate facial expressions/body posturing.
  • Positively interact with the student at fixed times (e.g., within 5 minutes, provide an interaction every 30 seconds)
  • Make positive or neutral comments while the student is working on a task (e.g., “Doing OK?” or “I can tell you’re working hard.”)
  • Be physically near the student
    • Walking and engaging in positive interaction with student during transitions
    • Engaging in an activity (preferably non-academic) with student
  • Make more “comments” than “demands” when working with the student
    • Ex: “You need to work much faster” may trigger challenging behavior while making a comment such as, “You are trying so hard to finish,” may prompt the student to work harder.
  • Pair student with peer to do cooperative work and train the peer to provide NCA
  • Give the student a helping role in the room
  • Use nonverbal cues, such as a head nod, high five, thumbs up with eye contact
  • Call on the student in class (when you are pretty sure that they know the answer!)
  • Give brief, specific praise about the student’s work or behavior (e.g., “I really like to see how carefully you are drawing that map, Joanna!”)
  • Write a personalized note to student

Example case study (adapted from Coy & Kostewicz, 2018):

  • Adam, a student with both academic and behavioral goals on his IEP, has struggled in his first grade general education classroom. His teacher, Mrs. Day, describes him as a very “energetic” student who engages in a high level of disruptive behavior (e.g., calling out to teachers, yelling answers). When given an independent assignment, Adam often calls out to Mrs. Day and other classroom adults screaming things such as “I don’t know how to do this,” “The first answer is 4,” or “Come help me!” Mrs. Day has attempted multiple strategies to address Adam’s challenging behavior, including adapting each assignment to meet his instructional abilities; however, his behavior has not changed, and Mrs. Day has reached a breaking point.
  • Adam’s IEP team recommends an FBA. When reviewing the results, Mrs. Day notices that Adam would call out without permission after independent work was assigned, after which an adult often would talk to him about the assignment or direct him to be quiet. Mrs. Day has noticed that Adam responds positively to teacher attention. Adam would go up to his teachers in order to get their attention or smile after receiving positive attention. Mrs. Day determines that giving Adam a light pat on the back and a warm smile would be an effective reinforcer.
  • During independent work times, Mrs. Day uses an electronic device that vibrates every 90 seconds. When she feels the device vibrate, she will go over to Adam and give him a light pat on the back and a warm smile. On the 1st day, Adam calls out right as Mrs. Day is about to provide reinforcement. Mrs. Day remembers that the plan says to wait a few seconds, so she praises a neighboring student. When Adam stops calling out, Mrs. Day gives him a light pat on the back and a warm smile.
  • As the intervention progresses, Mrs. Day collects and reviews data on Adam’s calling-out behavior. When Adam meets the fading criteria, Mrs. Day adds 20 seconds to the reinforcement schedule. After this increase, Adam’s callouts are louder and he calls out to Mrs. Day several times in a row. Mrs. Day knows that his behavior could escalate and sticks to the plan. Adam’s callouts reduce over the next few days. Adam’s schedule continues to fade and soon it meets termination criteria. Even though the plan terminates, Mrs. Day continues to keep an eye on Adam’s behavior to ensure his continued success.


Examples & Nonexamples of NCA¹′²



“Did you see the Commodores play yesterday?”

“Can you answer the next question?”

“That’s a cool pencil”

“Get back to work, Mark”

“How are you doing, Sean?”

“Sean, read the second paragraph to me”

Smiling at the student and patting his or her back.

Giving a “teacher-look.”

Directing “thumbs up” at the student

Ignoring the student

“Hope you had a nice weekend, Bianca!”

Shaking your head “no” at the student.

“You already completed the first five problems. Are you feeling confident with this material?”

“Please stop distracting others, John.” 

  1. Rubow, C. C., Noel, C. R., & Wehby, J. H. (2019). Effects of noncontingent attention on the behavior of students with emotional/behavioral disorders and staff in alternative settings. Education and Treatment of Children, 42(2), 201–223.
  2. Katzenbach, J. B., Shuster, B. C., Shafer, B. H., Lloyd, B. P., & Carter, E. W. (2016). Noncontingent attention tip sheet. Tennessee Behavior Supports Project at Vanderbilt University.

Video Examples

Supporting Research

Austin, J. L., & Soeda, J. M. (2008). Fixed-time teacher attention to decrease off-task behaviors of typically developing third graders. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 41(2), 279–283.

Banda, D. R. & Sokolosky, S. (2012). Effectiveness of noncontingent attention to decrease attention-maintained disruptive behaviors in the general education classroom. Child & Family Behavior Therapy, 34(2), 130–140,

Carr, J. E., Severtson, J. M., & Lepper, T. L. (2009). Noncontingent reinforcement is an empirically supported treatment for problem behavior exhibited by individuals with developmental disabilities. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 30(1), 44–57.

Coy, J. N., & Kostewicz, D. E. (2018). Noncontingent reinforcement: Enriching the classroom environment to reduce problem behaviors. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 50(5), 301–309.

Enloe, K. A., & Rapp, J. T. (2014). Effects of noncontingent social interaction on immediate and subsequent engagement in vocal and motor stereotypy in children with autism. Behavior Modification, 38(3), 374–391.

Jones, K. M., Drew, H. A., & Weber, N. L. (2000). Noncontingent peer attention as treatment for disruptive classroom behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 33(3), 343–346.

Rasmussen, K., & O’neill, R. E. (2006). The effects of fixed-time reinforcement schedules on problem behavior of children with emotional and behavioral disorders in a day-treatment classroom setting. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 39(4), 453–457.

Richman, D. M., Barnard-Brak, L., Grubb, L., Bosch, A. & Abby, L. (2015). Meta-analysis of noncontingent reinforcement effects on problem behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 48(1), 131–152.

Riley, J. L., McKevitt, B. C., & Shriver, M. D. (2011). Increasing on-task behavior using teacher attention delivered on a fixed-time schedule. Journal of Behavioral Education, 20(3), 149–162.

Rubow, C. C., Noel, C. R., & Wehby, J. H. (2019). Effects of noncontingent attention on the behavior of students with emotional/behavioral disorders and staff in alternative settings. Education and Treatment of Children, 42(2), 201–223. 
Tomlin, M., & Reed, P. (2012). Effects of fixed-time reinforcement delivered by teachers for reducing problem behavior in special education classrooms. Journal of Behavioral Education, 21(2), 150–162.