Ignoring is a very effective discipline strategy when it is used appropriately. It can help manage a variety of behaviors and can help kids learn appropriate ways to get attention. When combined with other discipline techniques such as praise, reward systems, and time out, ignoring can be a great tool.
Ignoring can help kids learn to how deal with their feelings in socially appropriate ways. For example, instead of screaming and stomping his feet when he’s upset, he can learn other coping skills to deal his feelings of sadness or disappointment.
In order for ignoring to be an effective, it requires that you have a positive relationship with your child. Otherwise, your child won’t be bothered by being ignored. Giving your child plenty of positive attention will make ignoring most effective in reducing attention-seeking behaviors.
Behaviors that Ignoring can Address
Ignoring can reduce any attention seeking behaviors. Common behaviors that can be reduced or eliminated with ignoring include whining, temper tantrums, asking the same question repeatedly, and talking back. Without an audience, these behaviors usually aren’t much fun and kids will give up (eventually).
Depending on your values, you may consider using ignoring with other behaviors such as swearing. Some parents aren’t willing to tolerate swearing and they prefer to offer a more immediate consequence. It’s completely up to you.
It is important not to ignore more serious behaviors such as aggression. These types of behaviors require a more serious form of age appropriate discipline, such as the loss of privileges or time out.
How to Actively Ignore
Ignoring requires that you completely ignore your child’s misbehaviors. This means no eye contact, no conversation, and no physical touch.
You will know that your attempts at ignoring are effective if the behavior gets worse initially. When a child is not getting the response he wants, he may scream louder, try to get in your face, or whine even more.
Don’t give in if the behaviors start to get worse. Otherwise, this will reinforce to your child that these behaviors are effective. Once you start ignoring, make sure you continue to ignore until the behavior ceases.
As soon as the behavior stops, provide your child with attention again. For example, as soon as a temper tantrum stops say, “Oh Bobby great job sitting there quietly. Should we talk now about what we can do with our afternoon since the rain changed our plans?” This reinforce to your child that being calm gains attention and together you can talk about his feelings and find solutions to the problem that upset him.
It can be helpful to sit your child down when he is calm to explain the plan. Tell him when you will ignore him and explain how he can regain your attention. Then, your child will be aware of the direct link between his behaviors and your reaction.
Common Concerns about Ignoring
Sometimes parents are concerned that ignoring will be emotionally scarring to their child. It’s important to remember that you aren’t ignoring your child; it is the negative behaviors you are ignoring. If your child is really distressed, ignoring isn’t a good approach. Instead, it would be important to provide your child with emotional support.
At other times, parents worry that they cannot tolerate ignoring their child’s behaviors. It can be helpful to distract yourself with a book or television to help you ignore. It can also help to keep reminding yourself that although it may be distressing in the short-term it will help your child in the long-term.
It’s important to work with other caregivers on discipline strategies. If you are trying to ignore your child’s tantrum and Grandma steps in to say “What’s wrong honey?” it will reinforce to the child that his behaviors are effective. So work with other caregivers to develop a behavior plan that outlines which behaviors you will agree to ignore.