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Ever heard of planned ignoring?

Updated: Jul 28, 2022

Generally speaking, attention to a behavior is one of the largest determinations of whether or not the child wants to keep doing that behavior or not. Imagine they are doing the most annoying behavior. It often feels like you have to keep telling them to stop or else they will just do it forever and ever. So you get mad MAD and tell them to stop until one of you gives in. In actuality, for many behaviors, if you ignore it, they are MUCH more likely to stop doing it in that moment and MUCH MUCH less likely to do it again in the future.

Important note to keep in focus: You might be thinking, "Who is this woman telling me to ignore my child?! I am not going to just ignore my child!" Remember this: You are ignoring the behavior, not ignoring the child. When you choose to use planned ignoring, you are not choosing to ignore your child, you are choosing to ignore a behavior that you do not want to promote. Sometimes of course, you can't ignore a negative behavior because it is dangerous. For instance, if your child is heading straight for the top of the stairs, attend to that behavior, duh! Planned ignoring does not apply to all behaviors. It applies to non dangerous behaviors where the child gets no other benefit from the behavior except attention.

Real life toddler drama at home:

  • I told my daughter "all done milk" because she kept throwing it. The cup spills a little every time it hits the floor so it was making a mess. So then she started throwing her water cup and saying "throw" every time she did it. I ignored it because I didn't want to give attention to the behavior (and the water cup doesn't spill/even if it did, its only water). 15 seconds later she stopped. Because there was really no harm in the behavior she was doing, I ignored it. Because she wasn't going to get any attention for it, she stopped. There was really nothing else for her to get out of throwing her cup on the counter.

  • Immediately following the previous example, she then proceeded to open the freezer and take out these chocolate cookie dough bites that my husband likes. When I looked at her, she ran away from me in hopes of me chasing after her to take the chocolate bites. I decided not to chase her because I will not let my toddler manipulate me (as much as possible :) And also she can't independently open the bag so she couldn't get anything positive out of the situation anyway. I waited until she came to me, asked me for some of the chocolate bites by saying "eat," and then I told her, "No, we need to put that away. You can have one after dinner." She proceeded to independently open the freezer again and put the chocolate bites away. Instead of chancing her around the kitchen, snatching the bag out of her hand, and her screaming and falling on the floor, this situation ended much more calmly than it could have.

  • *Important note and topic for another post: I will do my very best to remember to give her one after dinner so that she knows she can trust my word and I didn't just say I would give her one later in order to get her to put it away.

Real life drama at school (not so cutesy):

3 year old student in one of my classes when I was teaching. This child only learned how to get negative attention and was very deprived of positive attention. His life lacked any routine including consistent sleep and therefore self regulation of emotions was non-existent. When he was frustrated (which was often because of his inability to regulate), this student would make a mess of everything within his reach. This would often happen when we were transitioning from one part of the day to another part of the day.

When possible and he wasn't putting himself or anyone else in danger, this destructive behavior would be ignored. Eventually the student would come to the group and we would give him all the praise and positive attention we possibly could for coming to the group and following the routine of the class.

Over time, the destructive behavior was no longer happening. Planned ignoring was used to reinforce that he was not going to get the negative attention he was seeking. All children want attention, but he didn't know how to get it. Planned ignoring was one of many behavioral strategies used with this student but eventually he began to seek positive attention. Seeing a child learn to elicit a smile from someone or ask for a hug, is an incredible thing.

Ignoring the behavior was very difficult at times because it felt like letting it continue was communicating to the child that the behavior is okay. It wasn't. In this case, the only benefit that the child got out of the destructive behavior was attention. When the option for attention was taken away, there was no reason for the child to continue the behavior.

Planned ignoring definitely doesn't always feel natural but when used properly, it is always effective.

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