It's very common for many parents to struggle with some of the recommendations, strategies, and tips for handing a child's unwanted behavior. When I talk about junk behavior, inappropriate behavior, or attention-seeking behavior you may hear me advise parents to ignore the behavior. Many parents initially struggle with this concept.
To some, it seems counterintuitive to ignore behavior but sometimes that's exactly what you should be doing.
Many parents feel that if the child is doing something inappropriate, we should talk to them about it so the child knows that they should no longer do the behavior. Sometimes this can be a big problem because talking to the child about the unwanted behavior may actually encourage the child to continue the behavior because they liked the type of attention they received in that "talk."
What do I advise parents who experience this situation? If the parent really feels the need to talk to the child about why running in the house is not a good idea, for example, I always encourage the parent to chat with the child after the situation has calmed down and the child has moved on to something else. This way, the child is not receiving direct and immediate attention for running in the house and the parent can still instruct the child.
But sometimes there's still a better way.
That better way is not providing attention to that inappropriate behavior. When you avoid providing attention to inappropriate behavior, you are teaching the child that the inappropriate behavior is not going to get them the attention that he or she may be seeking.
Many parents feel that when we avoid providing attention to the unwanted behavior, when we "ignore" the behavior, we are not addressing the behavior and thus not being good parents. This notion is far from the truth! When we do avoid providing attention for unwanted behavior, we are responding the exact way that we should. Like I said above, in that moment we are teaching the child that the behavior they are doing is not going to give them the outcome that they want.
So maybe we should just get rid of the word "ignore" all together. What you are doing is not providing attention to that behavior. What you are also doing is addressing the behavior is a different way than you are used to. You are responding appropriately as a parent, and you are handling the situation by not providing attention to that behavior.
While "ignoring" or not providing attention to the unwanted behavior can teach the child that the behavior will not get him what he wants, there is one more thing that we can do to really teach the child how to behave. While we are not providing attention to the unwanted behavior, we can provide attention to a desirable behavior.
For example, if your child is chewing with his mouth open at the dinner table, instead of giving him attention for the behavior by saying, "Oh, that's gross! You need to chew your food the right way," we can avoid providing attention to the behavior by not commenting and instead praise him for sitting nicely. This can help teach the child that (1) he won't get attention for chewing with his mouth open and (2) he will receive praise for doing good things like sitting nicely.
Thus, you can do the one-two punch strategy: (1) avoid providing attention and (2) praise the child for an appropriate behavior.
There are also many other strategies that you can try, like praising other child who are present to try and get the one child to stop the inappropriate behavior, but I will save that for a different blog post.
The moral of this blog post is that it's okay to "ignore" your child's inappropriate behavior by not providing attention and instead to praise your child for doing something appropriate.