Before becoming a parent myself, I worked at a non-profit that delivered one-on-one mental health support services. I worked with children with severe behavior disorders, & I worked with families who were at their wit’s end. I had many strategies in my therapeutic toolbox, but there was one particular strategy that I used daily.
This is such a simple strategy that anyone can implement. Ignore certain behaviors, & they will lessen...
If your child’s classmate is picking on them, let them know that they can ignore them.
If you already told your child 5 times that they could not have another cookie, ignore them.
If your child is using a whiny voice, ignore them.
If they are yelling to get your attention, ignore them.
But... when & why you are ignoring behavior is very important!
Don't Ignore Everything
Of course, there are certain behaviors that you are not going to want to ignore, like physical aggression. You do not want to ignore your child when they genuinely need you. Oftentimes, ignoring is a strategy to be used when the child is attention-seeking in an inappropriate way. You can also teach your children to use this same tactic to stay out of situations with their peers - you can ignore your friend who is trying to distract you during class, or you can ignore the student who is goofing off when they shouldn't be.
Let Your Children Know What You're Doing
You don't want to simply ignore your child without them understanding what's going on; this will only escalate the situation. Instead, be sure that the child understands how they can get your attention again:
“I am going to ignore you until you can talk nicer to me.”
"I am going to ignore you until you use a big boy voice instead of a whine."
"I already answered your question about the cookie. I am going to ignore you until you're ready to talk about something else."
Encourage Positive Behavior
The other key to this tactic is that you will need to encourage the behavior that you want & find the underlying reasons for the acting out behaviors. Give your child plenty of attention when they are being sweet & kind & calm. Talk about issues calmly that may be upsetting them. Make sure that they feel heard. Otherwise, the attention-seeking behaviors will continue despite the ignoring b/c you are not resolving the underlying issues outside of the heated moments.
Ignoring behavior may seem like you are condoning it, but since so much behavior is attention-seeking at its root, you are actually discouraging the behavior by not giving it any attention. It’s not fun to throw a tantrum if no one is there to watch. It’s not fun to whine if no one is there to annoy.
Adding this strategy to your parenting toolbox can be very helpful, whether you are in the midst of the toddler or teen years. It is about ignoring the negative behavior & rewarding the positive behavior - simple concepts that can make a big difference!
*For more on this topic, check out the full Child Behavior collection*