Steps for Ignoring

You can learn to use ignoring with three simple steps:

What behavior is causing the most problems? Start ignoring the behavior instead of responding the way you usually do.

Be silent. Make your child think that you cannot see or hear him. You may even want to turn your back to your child so your child does not see you looking at him. You can watch out of the corner of your eye for good behaviors. Even when using ignoring with your child, his safety should come first. Do not leave the child alone unless it is safe. While ignoring:

    • Don’t touch or hold your child
    • Don’t talk to your child
    • Don’t look at your child
    • Don’t give in

Ignore the behavior without giving in. Ignore it every time it happens. Being consistent and ignoring the behavior every time it occurs are important in decreasing or stopping misbehaviors.

When the misbehavior stops, return your attention. Remember, simply ignoring your child does not tell him what you want him to do. Use positive attention and praise to tell him what you like about what he’s doing, even if he is just sitting quietly. When praising a good behavior, be enthusiastic and specific. For example, you might say, “I really like how you asked me with your inside voice to help you tie your shoes!”

Tips for Ignoring

  • Ignoring works well when used with positive attention for behaviors you’d like to see more often. This means that you ignore the behavior you want to stop and when you see your child doing something you like, you praise it immediately.
  • Be prepared for the behavior to get worse when you first start ignoring it. Prepare yourself and expect this increase in the misbehavior. If you give in and give attention to your child, you risk teaching your child that his behavior needs to get worse for him to get his way. For example, if whining used to work for your child to get his way, he may whine longer and louder to see if he can get your attention.
  • Be consistent and predictable with your ignoring. If you are consistent and predictable with your ignoring, you will see a decrease in the misbehavior over time. Even after the behavior has disappeared for a while, your child may sometimes try the behavior again to see if it will work to get attention. Keep ignoring the behavior even if it has been a long time since your child behaved that way. When the behavior goes away, it is often fairly permanent, unless you start paying attention to it again.
  • All caregivers need to respond to misbehavior the same way. If one parent is consistently ignoring and another parent is providing attention for that same behavior, ignoring may not work or it will take much longer to have an effect. Tell everyone who cares for your child, (e.g. teachers, babysitters, and grandparents) about the kinds of behaviors you are trying to ignore. Then, show them how you are using the ignoring technique.

Examples

Example 1: Read how a parent uses ignoring well to respond to her child

A mom and her son are in line at the bank. Her son begins to whine about having to stand in line and about how bored he is and how much he “hates” the bank. The mom immediately turns her back slightly to her son and does not provide any attention for this behavior. This means she does not touch him, talk to him, nor look at him. She does this the whole time they are in line but her son continues to whine.

The mom then realizes that other people in the bank are giving her son attention. When her son stops whining and takes a few breaths, the mom immediately kneels down to his level and tells him, “I really like it when you are standing quietly in line! It makes me very proud of you!” With this combination of ignoring the misbehavior and praising the behavior she wants to see, the mom saw a decrease over time in her son’s whining at the bank. He liked to get his mom’s praise for standing quietly in line.

Example 2: Read how a parent struggles to use ignoring well

A dad and his daughter are at the grocery store in the checkout line. The daughter says, “Dad, can I have a candy bar?” The dad says, “No. It’s almost time for dinner.” The daughter yells, “But dad, I want one! I’m hungry! You’re a mean dad!” The daughter starts to cry and stomp her feet. People are looking over at the dad and his daughter. The dad feels embarrassed and buys his daughter the candy bar so she will be quiet.

The next time the dad and his daughter go to the grocery store, the daughter knows that she just has to yell and cry until her dad buys her a candy bar. Things that could be done differently:

  1. The dad could agree to buy his daughter the candy bar when she first asks. Since it’s almost dinner time, he may tell his daughter that she will need to save it until after dinner.
  2. Once the dad says “No,” he needs to stick to his answer. When his daughter gets upset and says mean and hurtful things, he can ignore her.
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Page last reviewed: November 5, 2019