By Laura Hurstfield
Do you find yourself in a constant parenting monologue of “don’t make that silly noise, don’t hit your brother, stop pulling faces at your sister”?
Would your time be better spent on the “please get your shoes on, please come to the table for dinner” type parenting conversations?.
My daughter, now 24, had a dreadful habit at around 3 years old, seated on a dining chair booster seat, she would start kicking her legs on the underneath of the dining room table at mealtimes. My husband would consistently ask her to stop, she would stop for a few seconds then the minute he was on his next mouthful of food she was off again kick, kick, kick. This was now a constant occurrence; she would kick, he would shout and repeat. I was in the middle of my Parent Practitioner training and learnt the strategy based on planned ignoring for minor but annoying behaviours. I realised she was getting attention for doing something we could be ignoring, she didn’t care that daddy just shouted at her, it was attention all the same. Having explained Planned Ignoring to my husband, we gave it a go and within the week the kicking stopped, and we were able to have nice family conversations and much more enjoyable mealtimes and probably used the strategy a few more times for other minor but annoying behaviours as she got older.
What is Planned Ignoring?
Planned Ignoring is where you completely ignore a behaviour, don’t give it attention, no words, no eye contact. Planned Ignoring is used for minor problem behaviours that are aimed at getting your attention, such as kicking the table, making funny noises, whining, pulling faces and using rude words; all the things we react to but don’t need to.
These behaviours annoy us immensely, but they are not dangerous or aggressive to others and your child is not in danger, so what if we ignored those behaviours, don’t make eye contact, and don’t say a word? It might get louder for a short time but then when they realise you are not reacting the way they expect or want you too, they soon give up. They may try again later or the next day and if they get the same response the behaviour soon loses its appeal, resulting in reduction or cessation of the annoying behaviour.
What to Ignore?
Parents shouldn’t ignore any behaviours which put the child or someone else in danger, and if the behaviours start to escalate to aggression we stop ignoring and use our other strategies. For Planned Ignoring to be successful parents have to decide in advance what will be ignored and be consistent with that, so think about the most minor but annoying behaviours, whether it’s kicking the table at mealtimes, whining for lollies 10 minutes before dinner or saying rude words, decide what you as parents can ignore.
Once you have decided what you will ignore, be ready to ignore, sometimes the behaviours are so annoying it triggers us to react and that can creep up on us unexpectedly because it’s become a habit, be mindful to ignore completely, that means no eye contact, no words.
It might get worse before it gets better, this is perfectly normal the first time you try ignoring they may get louder for a while but be consistent and keep ignoring (unless they become aggressive) and eventually they realise they are not getting the attention so they will stop, this is when you praise them for stopping the behaviour. If they are super clever, they will realise you have taken back control, so expect a mutiny attempt about 3 weeks into your new parenting strategy, be strong and stick with Planned Ignoring (or any other new strategies) and things will soon settle again, it’s very normal and some parents think they failed but in fact it proves your strategy worked and they are trying to get things back to the old way.
If your child starts climbing on you or pulling at you whilst doing Planned Ignoring for using rude words, just move away or ask them to stop climbing on you, don’t mention the rude words, we are ignoring that, but we can respond to other behaviours especially if they are getting aggressive.
Planned Ignoring is a great tool to manage minor but annoying behaviours leaving you more energy to focus on other behaviours whether it’s stopping aggressive behaviours or teaching them to clean their teeth or wash their hair. Not having to deal with these minor behaviours means you can focus on other things and hopefully make your parenting more rewarding.
What We Pay Attention To We Get More Of!
If we focus on the behaviours we want we will get more of that, if we praise them for sitting nicely at the table they are more likely to continue to do it, if we praise them for putting their shoes on, even if they are on the wrong feet, they still got their shoes on, they are more likely to give it another go tomorrow. If we are constantly giving attention to the negative or unwanted behaviours, any attention, even shouting is fine to a 5 year old they will just keep on running with it, so turn your attention to when they are playing nicely together and not hitting each other with building blocks or throwing Lego at the cat, you will get more of the nice, wanted behaviour because you made a point of saying how wonderful it was and they love praise just watch them beam when you praise them.
Praise specifically, not just good boy or good girl, 30 seconds prior they could have been swinging the cat by its tail, they don’t know what the good behaviour was. Be specific, “you are being so good sharing your Lego with your sister”, “thank you for sitting so nicely at the table tonight”, “what a good girl for putting your dolls away”. I have also used descriptive praise when my husband cuts the grass or stacks the dishwasher like its Tetris and gets it all in one load, so then it keeps on happening!
Laura Hurstfield has 20yrs experience as a Social Worker and Parenting Practitioner. Providing Parenting Programs such as Triple P Positive Parenting Program,123 Magic and Emotion Coaching and Circle of Security. In 2013 Laura won the accolade of International Triple P Practitioner. Laura offers 1:1 and group programs. Find out more: www.hurstfieldconsulting.com.au