Five reasons why ignoring isn’t the only answer to your child’s unwanted behavior

How many times has someone told you to ignore your child’s unwanted behavior?

“Your child is doing it to get a reaction out of you, so you just have to ignore.”

We are not going to tell you to ignore your child’s unwanted behavior, even if s/he is engaging in that behavior to get your attention!

It is possible that your child has learned that unwanted behavior effectively gets your attention. However, ignoring that unwanted behavior is NOT the ONLY answer. Here’s why!

  1. Be aware of the burst! – The unwanted behavior has likely worked to get your attention in the past. So if you abruptly change your response to ignore the unwanted behavior, the child will likely go above and beyond what s/he used to have to do to get your attention. This is how they learn to engage in unsafe behavior for which you CANNOT ignore.
  2. Children are efficient with their behavior. They learn that the unwanted behavior is more efficient when your attention is divided. So if you ignore, you aren’t teaching your child what TO DO when your attention is divided. Ignoring doesn’t work because you still haven’t taught your child what else TO DO when your attention is divided.
  3. We can react to unwanted behavior in early childhood ALL. DAY. LONG. Be it a positive consequence such as attention or gaining access to a toy/activity, or a negative consequence such as removal of privileges, timeouts, or yelling, the child has already displayed the unwanted behavior. We cannot have a plan solely based on reacting to the unwanted behavior. If our plan tells us what to do when the unwanted behavior has occurred, we are already too late.
  4. Sometimes your child’s unwanted behavior serves more than one purpose for him/her. Sometimes your child throws a tantrum to command your attention because they want something you have. Sometimes your child throws a tantrum to get out of doing something s/he would rather not do. If you always ignore and your child’s behavior sometimes serves to avoid or delay things s/he would rather not do, you are effectively reinforcing the behavior by ignoring.
  5. In early childhood, unwanted patterns of behavior usually develop because of a bona fide medical or physical condition, because the behavior serves to communicate for your child before his/her communication skills have developed, or because your child hasn’t yet learned a more appropriate social or behavior regulation skill. If your only plan is to ignore the unwanted behavior, you are ignoring the opportunity to teach new skills.

What else should your child do instead of the unwanted behavior next time? Build your entire plan around teaching that instead of reacting after your child has already practiced the unwanted behavior. Pretend You Are A Light Switch!® instead of ignoring!

My best,



The material contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to create or constitute a behavioral consultation relationship between Behave Your Best, LLC and the reader. The information contained herein is not offered as behavioral consultation and should not be construed as behavioral consultation.