In a Nutshell: Sometimes the best parenting plan is to plan to ignore inappropriate behavior.
Confession time…I am a card-carrying Over Parenter. I tend to step in too quickly when my kids disagree, and make molehills into mountains. But I’m trying. My kids may say otherwise, but I really am trying. I believe wholeheartedly in a parenting strategy called Planned Ignoring, but I have to constantly remind myself to use it, because my natural reflex is to give too much attention to negative behaviors, especially arguments. Basically, Planned Ignoring means that some annoying childhood behaviors are best treated by temporarily withdrawing parental attention, instead of diving headfirst into the problem. Determined to improve, I chose a night where I would watch for a chance to try to ignore instead of engage. It was last night. As if on cue, my kids got in a fight at bedtime, and I started counting as the battle ensued. Here are the gory details…
Lizzy (6) is looking at a book, Heckedy Peg.
Brigham (3): “I need Heckedy Peg!” (Grabs it away)
Lizzy: “No. I am looking at it.”
I start counting to see just how long this confrontation will last and how long I should wait before I step in.
Brigham: “NO! Give it to me! It’s mine!”
Lizzy: “I had it first!”(Grabbing the book back)
Tug and Pull, Pull and Tug, Cry and Yell, Yell and Cry
I want to jump in at this point, but I bite my tongue, and go to get my camera in the next room, positive that I will come back to a brawl. As I’m coming back maybe 10 seconds later, I hear…
Brigham (Angrily): “Let’s Share!”
Lizzy: “I had it first! I get to look first.”
Brigham (Angrily): “Okay.”
I enter the room again. Total silence. Brigham is pouting, sucking his thumb, and waiting for his turn. Lizzy looks a tad bit over triumphant. But they are not fighting anymore.
Total time from start to finish: 41 seconds
After another 20 seconds or so, they are both looking at the book. We read the book together, I praise them for getting along during the story, and there are no more problems that night (unless you count a three-year-old who still sucks him thumb when he’s upset!).
Wow. Double Wow. Even when I believe a principle works, it sometimes still delights and surprises me to see it work. Want to give Planned Ignoring a try? Here are a couple principles to follow:
- Parent attention is one of the biggest reinforces of childhood behaviors. Even if you think you are being “punishing,” some behaviors are actually strengthened just because you stopped the world to get involved. It can be a different way of thinking, but staying out of the battle is sometimes the best solution for minor problems.
- Use Planned Ignoring on behaviors that are annoying, not damaging. If a confrontation gets physically or emotionally harmful, a parent is responsible to get involved to keep kids safe.
- Planned Ignoring works great for temper tantrums, teenage junk talk, sibling rivalry, and arguments with friends. (We’ll have some posts on these specific topics later)
- When kids argue or misbehave, nonchalantly walk away or focus your attention elsewhere. Don’t give the misbehavior your attention.
- For fun, set a stopwatch or count to see how long disagreements last when you don’t get involved, and when you do get involved. You may be surprised to see that planning to ignore actually helps manage behavior better than trying to manage behavior. Kids often just need a little time to work it out in their own way.
- Planned Ignoring only works if at neutral times you teach your kids appropriate behaviors like sharing, have them practice, and look for chances to praise them when they do it right. It also only works in an atmosphere that it generally warm and nurturing. Obviously, if a parent is always ignoring their child, the kid won’t notice when Planned Ignoring is being used.
- Is it a sure-fire strategy? Of course not! But it is a great addition to your parenting tool belt.
Give it a try! Leave a comment below if you have some success with Planned Ignoring!