What is planned ignoring?
Planned ignoring is paying no attention to a child who is misbehaving. It means not looking at the child and not talking to them while they behave that way.
For example, if you’re having a family meal and your child is bouncing up and down on their seat, you could leave your child out of the conversation and not look at your child until they stop. When your child stops bouncing, you could say, ‘I love it when you sit still on your chair at dinner. Why don’t you tell us what you did at preschool today?’
A positive and constructive approach is the best way to guide your child’s behaviour. This means giving your child attention when they behave well, rather than just ignoring them or giving them a negative consequence when they do something you don’t like. So it’s always best to use planned ignoring with other strategies like praise and rewards.
Why does planned ignoring work?
Planned ignoring works because your attention is a big reward for your child.
If your child behaves in a particular way and gets your attention, your child is likely to behave that way again. But if you ignore the behaviour, it’s less likely to happen again. So attention for good behaviour usually leads to more good behaviour, and no attention for bad behaviour usually leads to less bad behaviour.
Because your attention is such a big reward for your child, sometimes it doesn’t matter what kind of attention you give your child. A reaction to bad behaviour is better than no attention at all, so even criticism or disciplining could feel like a reward to your child – and can actually lead to more bad behaviour.
Some autistic children avoid interaction with others. For these children, it’s best not to use planned ignoring. Talk with your child’s doctor or therapist about other ways to manage your child’s behaviour.
Should you tell your child you’re ignoring them? It depends on whether telling your child might reward your child with attention. For something small, you might not say anything. Or you could explain once that you won’t respond when your child behaves in a particular way. Then ignore the behaviour whenever it happens after that, without saying anything else.
Planned ignoring: tips
Here are some tips for using planned ignoring:
- Keep it short. For a toddler, 30 seconds of ignoring is enough. It’s OK to ignore older children for a couple of minutes. If children don’t stop misbehaving, try distraction for younger children or quiet time or time-out for older children.
- Plan ways to distract yourself if you think you’ll find it hard to ignore your child. You could put on some music, count in your head or plan your shopping list. Some simple breathing exercises can also help you feel in control and stay calm.
- Completely ignore. Don’t look at your child or say anything while your child is misbehaving. Glances, smiles or even frowns can be rewarding. Where it’s safe and practical, walk away from your child while they’re behaving badly.
- Start ignoring when the behaviour starts, and stop ignoring when the behaviour stops.
- Consistently give your child positive attention and praise for good behaviour. This makes planned ignoring work better.
Planned ignoring works well with silly behaviour like fiddling with food. But behaviour like tantrums might be a sign that your child is struggling to express strong emotions. With this kind of behaviour, you need to help your child calm down before you can address the behaviour.
Is planned ignoring the right child behaviour management tool?
Ignoring isn’t always the best option. Before deciding to ignore behaviour, it’s a good idea to check a few things.
Is the behaviour rewarded by someone else’s attention?
If the behaviour is rewarded by someone else’s attention – for example, siblings or friends – it won’t make any difference if you ignore it. In this case, you might need to look at another behaviour tool – for example, changing your child’s environment.
Should you ignore the behaviour?
Some behaviour might be rewarded by your attention, but you might not be able or willing to ignore it. You can’t ignore dangerous behaviour or behaviour that harms people or property – for example, biting, hitting, pulling on the curtains or throwing things. In this case, a behaviour tool like negative consequences or quiet time or time-out is appropriate.
Can you ignore the behaviour if it gets worse?
Sometimes you might start ignoring behaviour, but it gets worse and you end up giving it attention. For example, your child is tapping a block on a wooden floor, which you ignore. But then your child starts banging the block. If you criticise your child for banging the block, you run the risk of rewarding that behaviour. This makes it more likely to happen again.
In this situation, you could try simple breathing exercises while the banging is happening. But if you feel that you can’t ignore the behaviour if it gets worse, it’s better not to try ignoring it in the first place.
Can you ignore the behaviour wherever it happens?
If you ignore the behaviour in one place but not another, you’ll get more of the behaviour in the place you don’t want it. For example, if you ignore your child yelling at home but not at the supermarket, you might get more yelling at the supermarket. You could try planning ahead for the behaviour at the supermarket.
Can you ignore the behaviour whenever it happens?
This is crucial. If you ignore behaviour only sometimes, it can be harder to change your child’s behaviour. Rewarding your child’s behaviour some of the time strengthens the behaviour more than if the behaviour is rewarded every time it happens – because your child has to work harder for the reaction. Planning ahead for your child’s behaviour and managing your own stress can help.
Will other people ignore the behaviour?
If you have managed to successfully ignore a behaviour, but your partner, friend or relative suddenly comes in and pays attention, your good work will be undone. Backing each other up is an important part of managing your children’s behaviour, so it’s good if you and your partner can talk and agree on what behaviour you’ll ignore.
Sometimes others will find it difficult to understand your use of planned ignoring and might not be able to do it. If you’re in this situation it’s better not to use ignoring.