Now please note that this is not ignoring a child but to praise positive behaviors and to not acknowledge negative behaviors that are not harmful. The idea is that if we give positive attention when children are doing what we see as being good we are reinforcing the positive behavior. This would be if your child was helping tidy up and you tell him or her what a big help they are being or when they are playing nicely with other kids and you tell them how proud you are that they are doing such a great job sharing. This will encourage your child to continue this because they get attention from you.
The ignoring comes in when a child is doing what we the parents see as behaving badly. This is when you child asks for a cookie before dinner and when told “No” has a tantrum. The idea is to not pay any attention to the screaming child on the floor doing everything he or she can to get that attention. As long as they are not harming themselves, others or damaging things let them scream and cry. They are still not getting the cookie. If we feed into it and try to calm them down or explain why they cannot have a cookie they are getting attention and will more then likely keep it up. If you know that when you say, “No you cannot have a cookie now, it is almost dinner time” that a tantrum will start instead give him or her an alternative to the tantrum or cookie by saying, “No, you cannot have a cookie now, it is almost dinner time, can you help set the table.” That may divert them from the tantrum.
However if the tantrum starts just ignore that behavior. They don’t need to get your attention for negative behavior. Let them cry and scream, don’t look at them, don’t show any interest in what they are doing by word, body language or facial expression. Make sure everyone ignores this. Eventually the child will figure out that this is getting them exactly nothing, no attention and no cookie. Think about it as an adult, you feel kind of silly ranting and raving about something if no one pays any attention. It works the same with kids to. First they will increase the level of the tantrum to get your attention, once they don’t get it they eventually stop. After you do this several times kids will actually reduce the number of tantrums and the severity of the tantrums because it is not getting them anything.
It is very important that once the bad behavior is over you quickly find a good behavior to complement or praise them on. This quickly re-enforces that positive behavior gets them attention, negative does not. It has been found that if we give our kids lots and lots of positive attention with words, body language and facial expression all day and ignore the negative behaviors the negative behaviors reduce. Ignoring is one of the hardest parenting skills to master. It is hard on us to see our kids upset; we want them to be happy. It is stressful having a kid screaming and crying and not do anything about it. You want to make them stop, it is hard to not try to make your kid stop telling them to stop or explaining why they cannot have the cookie. In the long run though, ignoring is an incredibly useful tool. We just have to give ourselves permission to ignore a behavior and then train ourselves to do so.