Planned Ignoring for Parents: Definition and Examples

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will define planned ignoring and discuss its usefulness as a parenting technique to eliminate poor behavior choices of children who select misbehavior for specific purposes.

Extinguishing Behavior

Comedic writer Robert Orben said, ''I take my children everywhere, but they always find their way back home.'' We all love our children, but there are times when their behavior needs to be corrected. There are basically two ways to stop a child from engaging in unacceptable behavior: remove reinforcements or actively reinforce a replacement behavior. This lesson will focus on removing reinforcements to extinguish a behavior through planned ignoring.

What is Planned Ignoring?

Planned ignoring involves identifying an attention-seeking or otherwise strategic behavior that needs to be changed and consciously choosing not to reinforce that behavior by refusing to give the child the attention that he/she is craving. Planned ignoring is not something that is used when children are being violent, destructive, or immoral, but rather to extinguish irritating behaviors.

For example, when three-year-old Zachary goes to the store with his mother, he sees an action figure that he wants. When his mother tells him 'No,' Zachary whines and screams. It is apparent that Zachary believes that whining and screaming will help him achieve his goal. Zachary's parent has a few choices:

1) Zachary may be punished for misbehaving.

2) Zachary's parent may purchase the toy to stop his screaming.

3) Zachary's parent may remove him from the situation and ignore his behavior.

While punishment is sometimes effective to stop behavior, it is more likely to provoke fear of the parent than a true understanding of the reasons behind it. If the goal is to teach our children to be better people, punishment has its limitations.

If Zachary's parent gives in to his temper tantrum, then his whining and screaming has been reinforced and will no doubt occur again. It will get even worse if the child sometimes gets his way and other times does not. If it sometimes works, Zachary will be taught to up the ante until it does.

If Zachary's parent ignores his behavior, eventually Zachary will learn that this tactic does not work. In exchange, he will try another one.

The way Zachary's parent responds to this tantrum will make a big difference on how Zachary acts the next time he wants something and doesn't get it.

Identifying the Reasons for the Behavior

It is no accident that your child is behaving the way he/she is. A child engages in a particular behavior for a reason. The following are some of the common reasons that children act out:

  • The child wants attention from a parent, caregiver, or other adult.
  • The child wants attention from a peer.
  • The child wants to avoid something they find unpleasant.
  • The child wants something they can't have.

There are things that you can proactively do to prevent the behavior, such as stay in a routine, make sure the child gets plenty of rest, remain consistent in your expectations, make sure your expectations are developmentally appropriate, spend plenty of quality time with your child, and keep the child engaged in fun and challenging activities.

Understanding the underlying causes of the behavior will determine if planned ignoring is an appropriate response.

Identifying Targets

If your child has developed several bad behavioral habits over time, it is possible to extinguish them, but not all at once. All caregivers should agree on 1 - 2 specific behaviors that will be focused on, as well as a common response to that behavior.

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