Children don’t misbehave because it’s educational or enlightening.
They don’t misbehave because they’re sick or twisted.
Nope, children misbehave for one simple reason—it works.

From yelling and negotiating to farting and pinching, acting like a terror pays huge dividends. Crying, whining and complaining all give kids more of what they want, like an ice cream, more PlayStation time, extra bedtime stories or even just attention. Those same menacing behaviors also help kids avoid the things don’t want. Like baths. And vegetables.

Want to reinforce awful behavior? Merely respond with attention, discipline or just give in and you are guaranteed to see a repeat performance. Even a lecture supplies a child enough attention and power to aggravate a parent. Seeing a frazzled parent can be just as motivating as an extra cookie. Behavior that is reinforced is likely to be repeated because children have learned they are highly effective.

So if discipline and lectures result in increased awfulness, what’s a parent to do? Well, it turns out selectively ignoring these troublesome behaviors will show your children that their behavior is no longer effective. The best way to combat whining and tantrums and negotiating is to ignore it all. As soon as your child stops the behavior, immediately reengage.

Here is a list of the behaviors you should ignore to actually improve behavior. Happy ignoring!

Whining/ Complaining: We all know those children who complain about everything. Their dinner is too hot or cold. The line for ice cream is too long. They are too tired to walk Fluffy or do their math homework. The list of complaints never ends. These children complain because they have learned that complaining often helps them avoid unpleasant tasks. It also surely results in loads of attention. Even though it’s exasperating, ignore all complaining.

Insincere crying: Parents should never ignore children who are in real pain or discomfort. But often children use crying for effect. A parent or babysitter or grandma feels badly the child is sad and rewards her with something wanted. Crying is used as a ploy. Ignore it!

Tantrums: Tantrums are an expression of frustration and anger. Kids are allowed to be mad. But when tantrums are reinforced with attention or compromises children use them more frequently and with greater intensity. Allow your child to feel angry but don’t give the tantrum any attention. When the child starts to quiet down, reengage him/her as soon as possible.

Statements meant to provoke: Children, especially teens, are masters are pushing Mom and Dad’s buttons. All they have to do is insult us, and we become a ticking time bomb. It feels impossible not to react. But reacting with anger is exactly what a child is trying to accomplish. And when we reply with a heated, “Don’t talk to me that way!” kids know the mission was accomplished.

Cursing: There are two kinds of cursing and parents should ignore them both—but for different reasons. Little kids who parrot curses they’ve heard have no idea what they are saying. But the reaction they get from parents makes saying those words exceptionally fun. The second kind of cursing is done by cranky teens trying to piss off their parents. When teens don’t get what they want they are angry and want their parents to be angry too. So they mutter off a, “F**k you, Mom.” Those words will certainly earn a fiery response from Mom. Score one for the angry teen. Any reaction from a parent only acts as encouragement for more cursing. When cursing elicits no response children find other more appropriate ways to express themselves. Ignore all cursing.

Negotiating: Most parents assume that compromising with their kids is a win for everyone. That’s completely wrong. Whenever parents negotiate they lose even if they win something. That’s because kids who negotiate learn to use the tactic for everything. Once parents make a declaration for what a child needs to do, they shouldn’t negotiate—ever. And they should ignore any of the child’s attempts to do so.

Anything annoying: Sometimes children are annoying (every honest parent knows this is true). They burp on purpose or continuously tap their pencils or fidget in their seat. They make repetitive noises and talk too loudly. They pick their noses and wipe boogers on us. If children are being annoying on purpose to get under their parent’s skin and a parent shows frustration, the child will only be more enticed to repeat the behavior. Save yourself. Don’t respond at all.

Mean comments: Just like a teen cursing, mean comments are meant to grab a parent’s attention. They are meant to hurt and provoke. When parents respond by showing hurt or anger the child is only encouraged to continue to use that behavior out of spite. So, just like when a child has a fowl mouth, ignore it.

To learn more about how and what you can ignore pick up a copy of Ignore It!: How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction.

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