April 16, 2024

Parenting: A Key Skill

The prime purpose of being four is to enjoy being four – of secondary importance is to prepare for being five.” Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook, 1985

“The pressures of being a parent are equal to any pressure on earth. To be a conscious parent, and really look to that little being’s mental and physical health, is a responsibility which most of us, including me, avoid most of the time because it’s too hard.”  John Lennon

How well can you ignore people, situations or spouse? Do you ever tell your kids to just ignore that kid at school who is teasing them? Then, possibly within minutes, your child asks for ice cream, begs, and begs some more “to please give me ice cream.” You say “no” and “no again” but eventually give in to the pleas. Sometimes parents will  admit…”I know I shouldn’t do this.”

Ignoring is an effective punishment for non-destructive behavior — such as  tantrums, nagging, pouting — to get one’s way.

Don’t use ignoring when there may be risk of injury to anyone or when there is disobedience.  Use Time Out.
Example of Injury and Disobey:   A 4-year-old says “I will run away” —
ignore the words. If the child then goes to leave the house, stop  him and use Time out.

However, there is a catch that makes ignoring a particularly hard job for parents. Ignored behavior will get worse before it gets better. When those same actions previously worked to get one’s way, and now are not working, a child’s natural reaction is to try harder. So ignoring is a difficult skill for parents to master.

A woman I worked with reported that her 6-year-old cried, whined and complained at bed time every night. After ten to fifteen minutes, the mother would acquiesce, go in and lay down with the child until he fell asleep. The process took about forty minutes.

The second night was similarly distressing but she stuck with ignoring. After a week she returned and reported her son’s complaining was down to 30 minutes. She was encouraged and felt more in control. By the next appointment, he had stopped fussing and was going to bed when told. He tried, one more time a few days later and she just ignored him. Bed time was then better for both of them.

Ignoring may at times seem the hardest task in raising children. Kids can often last longer; they have more stamina, more determination and situation by situation, they wear parents down.

It’s so tempting to lecture, explain or give in. Doing this simply strengthens the undesired behavior; the child got our attention and/or got his way. In the short run this works for the parent because the tantrum stops. In the long run, the undesirable behavior gets stronger and may take longer to get stopped.

Ignoring also requires cooperation. If one parent ignores and the other gives in, the child learns to repeat the undesired behavior with the right parent.

In the Parents Class, we did role play with the child getting her way.  Parents were asked who was in charge. Class members clearly identified it was the child. Next role play was the child not getting her way, but the parent using ignoring. It was clear to everyone the parent was in charge; the difference was dramatic.


  1. 1. Look away. No eye contact.
  2. 2. No Words. Do not respond to what they say.
  3. 3. Move away.
  4. 4. Keep a blank face, even as you look away. When parents understand ignoring and relax, they often see the behavior as funny and start laughing. This is simply another type of attention. On the other hand, don’t be so angry that your face is unfriendly.
  5. 5. When the tantrum stops, look for the child’s next positive behavior and praise immediately.

Your Challenge: As a parent, you pick one whiny, pouty, tantrum behavior that your child does repeatedly. Try ignoring the behavior for several days. Remember it gets worse before it gets better; then you’ll see good improvement.



  1. Thanks for these timely and sensible articles. You have nicely laid out how parents can remain in charge of their children and shape acceptable behavior without being stern, harsh, or unreasonable. Thanks for providing that focus.