When All Else Fails: Using Tactical Ignoring Effectively

What do you do when you have utterly exhausted solution you know for tricky behaviour problems?

There comes a time when we have taken all the steps necessary to determine what an individual’s behaviour might be communicating. We are on the verge of pulling our hair out.  Nothing we change is working to decrease the silliness, crying, nose picking, spitting, screaming and/or lying on the floor.

There is one tool left in your toolbox. It just might be the game changer- if it is used sparingly and expertly.

It is called: IGNORING. Yep. That’s it.

To be sure, this is not just any ignoring. No, this is the ‘PLANNED IGNORE or TACTICAL IGNORING.’  It is executed well when we resist any urges to look at, chime in, respond, or even chastise the actions of a student or child.

Truth told this kind of ignoring is hard to do! The first thing that will happen – the behaviour you were trying to decrease – will increase. The screaming will get louder, crying will become more dramatic, the silliness will go off the charts. Yes, even the cat-ignores-dogspitting will hit a new high.

Once you start to ignore an attention seeking or well developed behaviour, DO NOT ATTEND unless you plan to see the behaviour for a LONG time! I have to tell you that even the thought of the slightest attention being given at this point makes me shiver! J

So what should you do? Fold laundry, pretend to work or read uninterrupted. Fake it if you must. Stay close enough to monitor the child’s safety and distant enough that you appear to have zero interest in what the child is doing.

If necessary, in the calmest and unaffected voice possible ask others to leave the room. Otherwise, do not speak. Do not smile. Avoid eye contact and facial expressions. Do not engage whatsoever with the individual performing the action.

Even after the actions begin to diminish, stay calm and uninterested. This is not the time to talk, lecture or even smile. If cleaning needs to be done, be sure to give enough calming time for the child. Then, in a quiet, calm, unemotional voice (or in a written note/picture) indicate in the fewest words possible: clean up please.

That is it. No need to say or do anything more. If you give attention to the behaviour afterward be ready for a bigger, uglier version of it next time.

The behaviour is probably not extinguished yet. But, given some time and a consistent ignore response the crying/screaming/silliness/spitting should get shorter and increasingly mild until it disappears altogether because it is ineffective in getting your attention. Behaviour is only used consistently when it gets us what we want.

I should warn you though, the message could come back…in another behaviour!  🙄


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