How to Use Ignoring to Discourage Your Child’s Misbehavior

Giving attention to your child when he misbe­haves can often add fuel to the fire by actually increasing the frequency of misbehavior—your child might learn that misbehavior is an effective way to gain your attention. Therefore, sometimes the best action to take to discourage your child’s misbehavior is simply to ignore it.

Ignoring can be very difficult, however. You may find that you can ignore your child’s behavior only up to a point, and then you explode with anger; this reinforces your child’s actions because he would rather have an angry reaction from you rather than no reaction at all. Or you might find that you start off by trying to ignore your child’s behavior but give in after a few minutes because you can’t tolerate his nagging any more; again, this simply teaches your child that if he nags long enough, he will get what he wants. Before you decide to use the tactic of ignoring, weigh your own ability to follow it through. You may decide that this technique doesn’t suit you.

If you do decide to ignore your child the next time he does something annoying, then have a plan of action to follow. For instance, you could ignore him by

  • looking busy with something,
  • reading a book or a magazine,
  • watching television,
  • talking on the telephone,
  • listening to music.

Whatever the course of action you take when ignoring your child, stay calm at all times, and show no reaction to him, even when his misbehavior intensifies. Keep a neutral expression on your face, seem interested in your own activity, and say noth­ing about your child’s behavior.

Ignoring doesn’t always work because its effectiveness rests on the assumption that your child can control his behavior— and sometimes he can’t. For instance, ignoring a mild tantrum might stop it from escalating into a full-blown outburst, but ignoring a full-blown outburst might have no effect at all because your child has lost all control at that point. Judge each situation individually before deciding to ignore it.

At first, you may discover your child’s behavior actually gets worse once he realizes you are ignoring him. It’s only natural that he’ll try harder to attract your attention. Keep your temper and remain calm. Accept that this deterioration in his actions is an inevitable initial reaction to your management strategy, and remind yourself that it will get better eventually. Make a note of how long your child keeps up his misbehavior when you first ignore him, and compare this with the length of time on sub­sequent occasions—you’ll be delighted to discover that the episodes become shorter and shorter as time goes by.

Filed Under: Family & Relationships


About the Author: Roberta Southworth is a psychiatrist by profession. She likes to help out people by writing informative tips on how people can to solve their family and relationship issues. She is currently staying in Ireland. She has 5 years of couple counseling experience.

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