In Therapy

Ignoring, when discussed in parenting, does not mean ignoring your child but rather, ignoring your child’s misbehavior. Many psychologists use the term Planned Ignoring or Strategic Ignoring to describe this technique.

What does it mean to ‘ignore?’

When a parent is ignoring the behavior of a child, the parent should avoid giving any attention to the child. This means, do not give your child eye contact, do not provide physical contact, and do not talk to your child.

Often times when a child is engaged in inappropriate behavior, parents often find the behaviors difficult to ignore. They may scold the child, tell the child “no” repeatedly, or respond to the child’s questions.

Sometimes during periods of ignoring, your child may ask why you are not giving them attention. Keep in mind that the ignoring should continue as long as your child is acting inappropriately. Your child may also initiate physical contact, such as trying to sit on your lap. In these cases, it may be best to stand to eliminate this possibility.

What’s the theory behind ignoring?

The reason for ignoring your child’s misbehavior is that attention, even negative attention, can be very reinforcing to a child. Behavior tends to decrease in frequency when it is not reinforced, or given attention. Planned ignoring is an effective strategy to show your child that the behavior is inappropriate.

What types of behavior should be ignored?

Attention-seeking behavior, such as whining, interrupting, nagging, and temper tantrums, should be ignored. This means that every time these behaviors are shown by your child, you need to ignore it. Otherwise, the behavior may worsen.

Are there any behaviors that should not be ignored?

Behaviors that are considered dangerous or harmful should not be ignored. This means that if your child is attempting to hurt others or destroy property, planned ignoring is likely not the best strategy.

When can I stop ignoring?

As soon as your child is no longer showing the inappropriate behavior. For example, if your child is whining, you will ignore by not speaking to, looking at, or touching your child. Once your child stops whining, you can turn to your child and give eye contact as well as attention.

Differential Attention

Ignoring should never be used alone. Parents need to remember not only to ignore those attention-seeking behaviors, but also provide positive attention for the appropriate behaviors.

This means that when your child is sitting quietly rather than whining, you should provide a labeled praise for your child such as, “I love the way you are waiting so quietly right now.”

Telling Your Child

It is helpful to let your child know about the new strategy you will be using. Make sure to have this conversation when your child is calm. You can let your child know that when he or she engages in [list behaviors], that you will not touch, look at, or speak to him or her. Explain to your child that this means that you do not approve of the behavior you are observing. Another important piece to tell your child is that as soon as he or she stops acting in that way, then you will stop ignoring.

Demonstrating Ignoring for Your Child

It may also be helpful to show your child what the ignoring would look like. Then, you can ask your child questions to make sure that the information is understood.

Something to keep in mind:

Sometimes your child’s behavior may actually get a little worse before it gets better. Psychologists call this an “Extinction Burst.” Keep with it – it just means that your child is upset by the fact that they are no longer getting your attention!

Contact Foundations Pediatrics for questions or to schedule an appointment for your child.

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Dr. Jill Driest is the founder of Foundations Pediatrics and a licensed psychologist in the state of Florida. She graduated with her Bachelors degree from the University of Florida and received her Masters and Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Nova Southeastern University.
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