When might it be appropriate to ignore your child?
As a parent, we are encouraged, on the whole, to be present and attentive to our children. However, there are a few times when briefly not paying attention to your child may actually be the best course of action. It is often referred to as ‘planned ignoring’, as it may be used when there is a specific attention seeking or mildly irritating behaviour - where you plan to deal with it without a power struggle or battle – simply by paying no attention to their behaviour until they start to settle and desist.
For example, if your child is behaving in a disruptive manner, like kicking your chair because you have briefly removed the iPad, or is whining about getting a toy in the supermarket, it may be best to ignore their behaviour rather than engaging with it. By getting involved and giving attention to their annoying behaviour, we can inadvertently reinforce it and encourage them to continue acting out – particularly if they succeed in getting to you – making you angry or upset! That, for your child is a result… you are showering attention on them. You are inadvertently making a repeat of this behaviour more likely!
For a young child, nice warm attention is best, but an annoyed response from you will do, because the alternative - no attention - feels worse. Children need to feel part of the clan, safe and connected.
So when you step back and appear calm and neutral, even just for a very short time, and pay no attention to silly behaviour or demands, your child notices that you are not going to play that game (whereas if you either give in or get cross, this is, relatively speaking, a result for them). So for example if your child is constantly interrupting you while you are talking, despite you asking them to stop, you might try selective ignoring - just carry on as if you hadn't heard it.
Here it's really, REALLY important for you to remain calm and behave as if it’s not your problem! Act as if you are just not bothered, remaining neutral and consistent. By doing this you can avoid a power battle, your child realises you mean business, and settles more quickly. But be aware that they may escalate the annoying behaviour at first, to see if you really mean it. This can be a particular issue with a strong-willed child.
So here are 5 tips:
Ask yourself is this a suitable situation for a ‘selective ignoring’ strategy - a minor irritating and demanding behaviour you are comfortable to ignore? Or is it, in this instance, likely to have a negative impact on others, or to compromise safety, in which case it obviously wouldn’t be appropriate to ignore it. Once you have decided selective ignoring is appropriate, then:
- Pay no attention if they go on whining, filter it out, stay calm, and stay neutral while you wait for your child to settle: this means no eye contact, don’t speak, talk or touch them until their behaviour improves. This means removing all attention, while keeping an eye out for the first sign of behaving better.
- Return your warm attention as soon as they stop whining/misbehaving and behave better; say for example “you’re being really nice and quiet!” Or “I love it when you keep your legs to yourself” etc. You might then try to:
Redirect their attention to some other activity “why don’t we draw a picture together” or “what should we have for tea today?” etc.
- Afterwards you can talk to them briefly about their behaviour and set appropriate boundaries and consequences for next time. Then move on, no criticism or recriminations.
So although it’s important to be present and attentive to our children, there are times when ignoring their behaviour may be the best course of action. By remaining calm, setting appropriate boundaries, and redirecting their attention to positive activities, we can help our children develop more constructive ways of communicating.
If you'd like to learn more about this parenting strategy and alternatives to try, then the Parenting Matters Course is full of highly effective strategies that are proven to work and could make a difference from day one! You can find out more here.