Positive attention helps you show your child that you appreciate something they have done and reinforces positive and beneficial habits in them. But did you know that negative attention works similarly and reinforces negative and desirable behavior in your child? When you criticize your child for something they have done wrong, it still counts as attention to your child. That is where active ignoring psychology comes into play. It diverts attention away from negative behaviors and teaches your child that acting out will not earn them your attention.
What Is Active Ignoring?
Active ignoring refers to the act of preventing your child from acting in a certain way by preparing for the child to receive no attention after the undesirable act. When your child begins to act out, do nothing—no yelling, commenting, lecturing, making eye contact, grimacing, or anything else.
Ignoring works best when the child’s primary goal is to draw attention to himself or herself, even if it means engaging in disruptive, annoying, or otherwise negative behavior.
How Do You Practice Active Ignoring?
Practicing active ignoring psychology is challenging because ignoring is not a natural response to many behaviors. You have to work hard to resist the pull of the body’s natural response to the behavior. When a child has a temper tantrum, the natural response is to do something active: yell, spank, hug, and so on. When you ignore, you are resisting your natural desire to respond.
Ignore the undesirable behavior and encourage the desired behavior
It is also called selective or differential attention. Active ignoring psychology is not effective when you only practice the ignoring aspect of it. You must also pay attention to the appropriate behavior when it arises. For example, if a child begins whining and you ignore him, it is crucial to attend to the child as soon as he or she begins to use an appropriate tone, and it can be helpful to comment on it at times.
It will get worse before it gets better.
In 75% of the cases of active ignoring psychology, a child’s behavior becomes worse before it gets better. For instance, if you ignore your child’s whining, he will double down on his whining before he learns to stop. You must be willing to consistently ignore the child until he stops on their own. You will end up reinforcing that behavior or habit, making it stronger and more difficult to break if you give in as the child intensifies the bad behavior.
Talk to your child first.
Explain to your child what you are doing and why before you start practicing active ignoring psychology. For instance, let your child know that you are going to ignore them because of how their screaming upsets you. Tell them that you expect them to come to you and speak to you normally to get what they need. They won’t get any response from you if they need you. Give them reminders after the initial justification.
As soon as you start ignoring, stick through the action plan each time the behavior occurs. But keep in mind to give the child appropriate, uplifting attention once they begin acting appropriately. Give them genuine and positive responses that will act as positive reinforcement.
Ensure everyone practices it.
Another important aspect of active ignoring psychology is that everyone must ignore the child’s undesirable behavior. Your child will continue whining if he complains to his mother who ignores him and he goes to his Dad or his grandparents, who respond to his complaints.
Ways to Practice Active Ignoring Psychology
- Do not talk to them. Keep quiet.
- Look elsewhere.
- Get busy with some household chores.
- Maintain a neutral expression on your face.
- Mention and praise the appropriate behavior of another child.
- Turn your back on them.
- Leave the table and take a seat in the corner.
- Appreciate your child’s behavior as soon as you see improvement.
What Behaviors Should You Ignore?
Active ignoring is the most effective when it comes to behaviors like whining, sobbing, talking back, name-calling, interrupting, dawdling, bad language, horseplay, funny noises, when nothing is physically hurt or wrong, and tantrums. Children often employ these behaviors to attract attention. If parents, relatives, friends, or other caregivers consistently ignore these behaviors, they will eventually stop.
Do not use active ignoring for destructive or harmful behaviors to your child or others such as pinching, hitting, slapping, breaking, or throwing things, being cruel to people or animals, ignoring a directive, swearing, or engaging in risky behavior, endangering others, receiving a poor grade, forgetting to complete homework or chores, being timid or fearful, a desire for solitude, circumstances where a seizure or other danger is possible, hitting a much younger sibling or tampering with a light socket.
Refrain from using ignoring if the behavior is so grating that you won’t be able to stand by it when it worsens. In these cases, taking a break might be a better course of action.
What To Do When Active Ignoring Does Not Go As Planned?
When their behavior becomes worse.
Are you consistently ignoring your child’s behavior? If you ignore a behavior for a short period before giving in or becoming angry, you have unintentionally taught your child that the only way to get your attention is to behave even worse than before. So, once you’ve decided to ignore a behavior, stick with it.
It feels like a daunting task.
It is challenging to stay calm when your child is whining, pouting, or engaging in other undesirable behaviors. Maintain your focus on the long-term goal. Remember that if you back out in the middle of it, it will reinforce their negative behavior.
Your child is becoming hostile.
If your child hits, slaps, throws things or threatens to harm himself or herself or others, it may be time to try other tools, such as “time out.” If you don’t use “time out,” or if you want to double-check that you’re using it correctly, be sure to ask for assistance.
Your child is always angry at you.
If your child is angry, it could be because you’ve begun ignoring him or her all the time, rather than just when he or she misbehaves. When your child is doing well, remember to grant them positive attention and praise their behavior. Ignore only the problematic behaviors and not the entire child.
Others aren’t practicing active ignoring.
Discuss with your family that unless everyone works together and follows the same rules, the problematic behaviors will not improve. Tell them that things could get worse if you don’t get them on board.
The Ending Note
Active ignoring might sound like a controversial or harmful strategy to some people, but it is known to not cause any emotional damage. If you practice active ignoring the right way, you can foster healthy behaviors in your child. Just make sure to stick with the plan once you have decided to employ this strategy; not doing so might worsen the negative behaviors of your child.