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Ignoring – What it is and how to use it for managing misbehaviors

Little girl sitting on floor crying

Attention from parents is very rewarding for children. Attention can be both positive and negative. Positive attention refers to things you do to let your child know you like something she did. It includes things like praise, hugs, pats on the back, or high fives. If your child ties her shoe by herself, you would likely praise her for doing a good job tying her shoe. Negative attention happens when you give your child attention for something you don’t like. It includes things like scolding and yelling. If your child keeps tugging at your shirt and calling your name, you may tell her to “Stop!” In this example, you have given your child attention. You may find yourself giving attention to negative behaviors more than positive behaviors because you are rushed or in a hurry. This happens in a lot of families. But, for children, negative attention from you is still attention. Ignoring works because it takes away attention from the behaviors you want to decrease. Your child learns that she will not receive attention for misbehaving.

What Is Ignoring?

Do not be fooled by the term ignoring. It is a very active process for the parent. Think of ignoring as the opposite of paying attention. When you ignore your child, you do not neglect him or stand by while he misbehaves. Instead, you take all your attention away from your child and her behavior. Ignoring usually helps stop behaviors that your child is using to get your attention. This includes behaviors like throwing tantrums, whining, and interrupting. When you are ignoring, you do not look at your child or talk to her. Ignore all protests or excuses to get your attention. The goal is to decrease behaviors you do not like or you want your child to stop.

Why Should I Ignore My Child’s Misbehavior?

Ignoring can help you reduce your child’s misbehavior. Remember that children love attention. Negative attention like screaming or yelling is very rewarding to a child. This is true especially if you were not paying attention to your child before the misbehavior started. By giving your child attention during tantrums, you may accidentally reward the behavior and increase the chance it will happen again. When you ignore some misbehaviors, you can make it less likely your child will do the behavior again.

What Misbehaviors Should I Ignore?

Ignoring is usually most effective for annoying behaviors like whining, crying when nothing is physically wrong or hurting, and tantrums. These misbehaviors are often done for attention. If parents, friends, family, or other caregivers consistently ignore these behaviors, they will eventually stop.

Your child may also misbehave in ways that are not meant for attention and put him in danger. Dangerous and destructive behaviors should not be ignored. For example, if your child is hurting herself, hurting others, or destroying objects, she should not be ignored. These misbehaviors should be stopped immediately. Other discipline and consequences such as time-out should be used. Click here for more information on other discipline and consequences and time-out.

How Do I Ignore?

  • Choose a specific behavior you want to ignore. What behavior is causing the most problems? Start ignoring the behavior instead of responding the way you usually do.
  • When your child does the selected behavior, take away all of your attention. 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.
  • 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.
  • Ignore the behavior the whole time it is happening. Once you start ignoring a behavior, you should keep ignoring it and not give in.
  • Simply ignoring your child does not tell him what you want him to do. Wait for the misbehavior to stop and quickly return your attention to your child. 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. In other words, tell your child what you like about his behavior. For example, you might say, “I really like how you asked me with your inside, big boy voice to help you tie your shoes!”

Learn some tips for ignoring and read some examples »