What to Do When Ignoring Doesn’t Seem to Work

What to Do When Ignoring Doesn’t Seem to Work

Posted By
on11 May 2015

This month I have been thinking a lot about ignoring and why this strategy that can be very effective for managing problem behaviors in young children does not always produce the results that parents want. Part of why this happens has to do with how parents actually implement the ignore (see the March 2013 issue of Moms the Word for more information about these details).  However, a recent post on a forum that I saw this month illustrated the other missing piece explaining why ignoring does not always work. A mother with a 2 year old daughter posted asking for advice on what to do about her daughter’s recent infatuation with throwing things. She reported that her daughter was not only throwing toys but anything she could get her hands on including books, cups, clothes, etc. Exasperated she said “It’s like a big game to her, she thinks it is funny when we tell her no.”  As to be expected many people offered suggestions along the lines of ignoring, “children often throw things to get a reaction from you. If you just ignore it, most of the time they will stop.” “When you correct her try not to give her too much attention, your interaction might be a big part of the game.” These were all really great comments and things that I have often suggested to parents myself. However, in this case the mother quickly responded that they had tried ignoring and it did not seem to help. This is where the missing piece of the puzzle comes in. All too often we associate ignoring with being effective for specific behaviors like throwing toys, tantrums, and whining. However, it is not the behavior that determines if an ignore is likely to be effective, it is the function or reward of the behavior that will give us this information.