Leading and Caring for Children

Consequence Alternative


Ignoring is not coaxing, not chasing, not scolding, not giving in, not even looking.

The attention of significant people can be very important. Not-giving-attention is a readily available tool to be used in a plethora of situations. Now here is the important part. Here is the ignorer’s inner mantra and silent incantation. If you remember this, you will ignore effectively.
There are certain ways you will NOT get my attention. If you want me to notice you, do something other than what you are doing.

Quick note reminder: the extinction curve kicks in when patterns of reward suddenly disappear. First it gets worse fast as the person tries harder to get the old response. It is like the coins not working in the vending machine: one can get violent. Gradually as nothing happens the effort tapers off. So if you ignore something and it immediately gets worse, ignoring could be working.


I have dealt with some pretty difficult children in my day, but Dennis took the cake. I paid Dennis and his mom a home visit once. The parents had divorced because of how difficult Dennis was as a child, so she had to deal with him alone. A few pieces of furniture remained in the home; the rest had been destroyed. The piano had almost all the ivory missing from the keys; all the wood was banged up or scribbled upon. The walls were marked up, too. No carpeting or rugs. You can imagine what living this way must have been for his mother. She had one pleasure: she liked a particular afternoon soap opera on what was left of the cheap television. She would make herself a cup of coffee, turn on the TV and sit in the one comfortable chair. She told me Dennis would approach her with attentive smiles as if he was wanting to be with her and “accidentally” knock over her coffee cup. Then he would do a dance in front of the TV, so she could not see it. Wow. I would have gone ballistic.

Some behaviors are difficult to ignore, so here are some ideas:
You simply leave. You get a book. You turn on the radio. You write all your angry thoughts in a diary.


Sherry was almost as memorable as Dennis. She destroyed the classroom! She opened every cupboard and swept it out onto the floor. She emptied every drawer. She dumped every container. Luckily some items too high to reach.  I was not alone, fortunately, so others could take the rest of the children outside. We were fortunate to have a visitors room that could see into the classroom through one-way glass. I got to watch this event without her seeing me. Perfect opportunity for ignoring. In between dumps she would lie face down on the floor, pound her fists, and scream as loudly as she could. But as time went by she would pause, look up to see if anyone was around, and then begin again. Pretty soon the disruption stopped. Well, “soon” was 30 minutes. When she stopped I went immediately to her smiling to her as if she were a long-lost friend. I gave her a hug and held her a bit. Then I started restoring things while talking jovially about what I was picking up and where things went. Amazingly she started in helping put things back, too, at her initiative. She didn’t restore the classroom, of course, but putting things back filled the rest of her day. She never disturbed the organization of the classroom again.

Video Example

Here’s a very, very old video about ignoring. This was from the days when I only had black and white wall mounted, VHS, black and white cameras in the laboratory classroom at the college. I could remotely control two of them and switch between as I recorded. The sound is lousy, too. I wouldn’t put this up on the web if it weren’t worth watching.

The boy is eating styrofoam packing peanuts. The adult did not want him to eat them, so he tried ignoring, because that is one of the choices to try. We used video to learn from, since people could self-discover what worked and what did not. We watched the tape together, we talked, and he got the message memorably.

Here is the latter portion of the tape for you to identify the mistakes.

Did you catch the mistake(s)?

By far the largest, most significant mistake is depicted near the end of this subclip. The adult did not immediately turn to the eating child in black when he started to play with the materials appropriately and did not comment on what he was doing. A comment would be something like, “Now you have three on there.” The very first time the child acted in a constructive way got ignored, too. If you ignore the desirables, too, you aren’t doing anything. You’re as effective as a telephone pole.

This is the mantra of ignoring to say to yourself inside. “If you want me to notice you, do something other than what you are doing.”

If you fail to immediately attend to what is more desirable, you have not ignored. If you fail to add that part, then you have no effect. When I ignore, I pretend that the child does not exist; he or she is not there for the moment, as unseen as what is behind my head. Then I keep a hawk eye out for something desirable to respond to. Big switch.

BTW, you might have noticed that he was chewing gum, which models the chewing behavior he was trying to dissuade. You might be surprise how often adults thoughtlessly model the disturbing behavior they don’t like. I have lots of tape of that: yelling at a child for screaming, grabbing a child for grabbing toys, spanking child for hitting, etc.  Hey, this is education. We all make mistakes. We all can fix them. I did those very things myself — well, not spanking, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

Protocol for Managing Difficult Behavior

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  1. Specify the behavior exactly
  2. Take a before measure
  3. Identify the A-B-C pattern


  1. Change the consequences
  2. Pick a new behavior to reward
  3. Change the antecedents
  4. Continue to measure

Examples of SandyJeremy, and Charlie


Next Deny Activities