So the other day, on social media of course, one of my advocate friends got into a debate with someone on active ignoring. I didn’t realize until then that some parents and professionals do not believe in active ignoring!

I’m actively ignoring my dog while I write this. See, he had water, a walk, went outside for toileting, and now he wants attention.

A frustrated mother sitting on a couch practices active ignoring as she covers her ears while her young daughter, standing on the couch, points and appears to be shouting.

But, I have to work. I have not yet figured out a way to get paid to play with my dog, so whine he will. Telling him to “be quiet” only gives him the attention he is craving.

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And, eventually, the behavior stops.

Below is an explanation of active ignoring and how to implement it. As always, let me remind you that any one article or idea on this site is not intended to be used in isolation.

And, for the purposes of this post, we’re going to assume that the necessary safety and comfort precautions are in place. That is, the child is fed, toileted, and their IEP needs are being met.

I am well aware (or lordy am I aware!) that many IEP students act out as a result of their IEP needs not being met.

I am going to assume that if you are using active ignoring at home or as a part of your IEP and behavior plan, that you are not using it in situations that was be contraindicative.

What is Active Ignoring?

Active ignoring is a behavioral management technique used to decrease or extinguish undesirable behaviors by deliberately withholding attention or reinforcement when those behaviors occur. Instead of responding to or acknowledging the unwanted behavior, individuals intentionally redirect their attention elsewhere.

The key elements of active ignoring include:

  1. Deliberate Action: Active ignoring is a purposeful and conscious strategy employed by individuals to ignore specific behaviors they wish to discourage.
  2. Withholding Attention or Reinforcement: Individuals refrain from providing any form of attention, praise, or reinforcement in response to the undesirable behavior. This can include verbal responses, eye contact, physical touch, or any other form of acknowledgment.
  3. Consistency: Active ignoring is most effective when consistently applied. It involves ignoring the undesirable behavior every time it occurs, without exceptions, to send a clear message that the behavior will not elicit any response or attention.
  4. Redirecting Attention: Alongside ignoring the undesirable behavior, individuals may actively redirect their attention or provide attention and reinforcement for alternative, more desirable behaviors.

Active ignoring is commonly used in various settings, including parenting, education, and therapy, to address behaviors such as attention-seeking, tantrums, or disruptive actions. It aims to weaken the reinforcement associated with the undesirable behavior, eventually leading to its reduction or extinction.

However, it’s important to note that the effectiveness of active ignoring may vary depending on the individual and the specific behavior being targeted.

When to Use Active Ignoring

Active ignoring is often used in situations where individuals exhibit attention-seeking or disruptive behaviors that are not harmful but are unwanted. Here are some common scenarios where active ignoring might be employed:

  1. Attention-Seeking Behaviors: When a child engages in attention-seeking behaviors such as whining, interrupting, or making noise to gain adult attention, active ignoring can be used to discourage those behaviors.
  2. Tantrums: Active ignoring can be employed when a child throws a tantrum, as long as the tantrum does not pose a risk to the child’s safety. Ignoring the tantrum removes the reinforcement of attention, which may eventually lead to a decrease in the frequency or intensity of the behavior.
  3. Disruptive Classroom Behavior: In a classroom setting, active ignoring can be used to address disruptive behaviors such as talking out of turn, calling out, or making disruptive noises. By ignoring these behaviors and redirecting attention to students who are following the rules, teachers can discourage disruptive actions.
  4. Sibling Rivalry: Active ignoring can be useful in addressing conflicts between siblings, especially when one child is seeking attention by teasing, provoking, or engaging in other attention-seeking behaviors. Ignoring the behavior can prevent it from escalating and reinforce more positive interactions between siblings.
  5. Inappropriate Language or Gestures: When individuals, especially children, use inappropriate language or gestures to provoke a reaction, active ignoring can be employed to discourage such behaviors. By withholding attention, the reinforcement for using inappropriate language or gestures is weakened.
  6. Repetitive or Nuisance Behaviors: Certain repetitive or nuisance behaviors, such as tapping, humming, or fidgeting, may be addressed through active ignoring if they are not harmful but are disruptive to others.

Active ignoring is typically used in conjunction with positive reinforcement for desirable behaviors. It’s important to note that active ignoring may not be appropriate for all situations, especially if the behavior poses a risk to the individual’s safety or the safety of others.

Additionally, it’s essential to consider individual differences and tailor behavior management strategies to meet the needs of each person.

When Not to Use Active Ignoring

Active ignoring may not be appropriate or effective in certain situations. Here are some instances where active ignoring should be avoided or used with caution:

  1. Safety Concerns: Active ignoring should never be used when the behavior poses a risk to the safety or well-being of the individual or others. For example, if a child is engaging in behavior that could result in physical harm, such as hitting, biting, or running into dangerous situations, immediate intervention is necessary to ensure safety.
  2. Medical or Emotional Needs: If the behavior is a manifestation of an underlying medical condition or emotional distress, active ignoring may not address the root cause of the behavior and could exacerbate the situation. In such cases, it’s essential to provide appropriate support, such as seeking medical attention or offering emotional support and counseling.
  3. Communication Needs: Active ignoring may not be suitable for individuals who rely on specific behaviors to communicate their needs or emotions, particularly those with developmental or communication disorders. Ignoring such behaviors could lead to frustration and exacerbate communication challenges.
  4. Intense or Persistent Behaviors: Some behaviors may be too intense or persistent to effectively address through active ignoring alone. In such cases, additional strategies, such as positive reinforcement of alternative behaviors or implementing behavior modification techniques, may be necessary.
  5. Unrealistic Expectations: If the behavior is deeply ingrained or has been reinforced over a long period, expecting immediate results from active ignoring alone may be unrealistic. It’s essential to have realistic expectations and be patient when implementing behavior management strategies.
  6. Negative Attention-Seeking Behaviors: While active ignoring can be effective for reducing attention-seeking behaviors, it may inadvertently reinforce more negative or harmful behaviors if the individual escalates their actions in an attempt to elicit a response. In such cases, a more comprehensive behavior management approach may be needed.
  7. Lack of Consistency: Active ignoring requires consistency to be effective. If the strategy is not consistently applied or if other caregivers or individuals in the environment inadvertently reinforce the undesired behavior, its effectiveness may be compromised.

Active ignoring should be used judiciously and with careful consideration of the individual’s needs, the nature of the behavior, and the context in which it occurs. It’s important to seek guidance from professionals, such as behavior therapists or psychologists, when implementing behavior management strategies, especially in complex or challenging situations.

How to Implement Active Ignoring

Implementing active ignoring effectively requires careful planning and consistent execution. Here are ten tips for implementing active ignoring at home or at school:

  1. Identify Target Behaviors: Clearly identify the specific behaviors you want to decrease through active ignoring. These may include attention-seeking behaviors, minor disruptions, or repetitive actions.
  2. Establish Clear Expectations: Communicate the expectations for behavior to all individuals involved, whether it’s family members at home or students in the classroom. Make sure everyone understands which behaviors will be ignored and why.
  3. Consistency is Key: Consistently ignore the targeted behaviors every time they occur. Inconsistency can confuse individuals and weaken the effectiveness of the strategy.
  4. Redirect Attention: While actively ignoring undesirable behaviors, redirect attention and provide positive reinforcement for desirable behaviors. This reinforces alternative behaviors and encourages individuals to seek positive attention.
  5. Stay Calm and Neutral: When ignoring behaviors, maintain a calm and neutral demeanor. Avoid showing any emotional reaction or giving non-verbal cues that could inadvertently reinforce the behavior.
  6. Set a Time Limit: In some cases, setting a time limit for active ignoring can be helpful, especially for behaviors that persist for an extended period. After the time limit expires, calmly address the behavior if necessary.
  7. Monitor Progress: Keep track of the frequency and intensity of the targeted behaviors over time. Monitoring progress allows you to assess the effectiveness of active ignoring and make any necessary adjustments to your approach.
  8. Provide Support: Offer support and guidance to individuals who may struggle with understanding or adjusting to the implementation of active ignoring. This could involve explaining the strategy, modeling appropriate responses, or providing alternative coping mechanisms.
  9. Collaborate with Others: Coordinate with other caregivers, teachers, or professionals involved in the individual’s care to ensure consistency across different environments. Consistent application of active ignoring enhances its effectiveness.
  10. Reevaluate and Adjust: Periodically reevaluate the effectiveness of active ignoring and be prepared to adjust your approach as needed. If the targeted behaviors persist or escalate, consider seeking guidance from behavior specialists or implementing additional strategies.

By following these tips and consistently implementing active ignoring with care and patience, you can effectively reduce undesired behaviors and promote positive behavior at home or in the classroom.

Active Ignoring Controversy

Active ignoring can be controversial for several reasons, mainly because it involves withholding attention or response to certain behaviors, which may raise ethical concerns or be perceived as neglectful by some individuals.

Here are some reasons why active ignoring might be controversial:

  • Ethical Concerns: Some people may view active ignoring as ignoring or neglecting the needs of individuals, especially children or those with disabilities. They may argue that all behaviors should be addressed with attention and support, rather than being ignored.
  • Emotional Impact: Ignoring behaviors, particularly in the case of children or individuals with emotional or developmental challenges, can have emotional consequences. It may lead to feelings of rejection, frustration, or resentment if not implemented carefully and sensitively.
  • Misinterpretation: Active ignoring may be misinterpreted as indifference or lack of care, particularly by those who are not familiar with behavior management techniques. This can lead to misunderstandings and conflict among caregivers, educators, or other individuals involved.
  • Effectiveness: While active ignoring can be effective for certain behaviors, it may not work for all individuals or situations. Critics argue that relying solely on active ignoring without addressing underlying issues or providing alternative strategies may not lead to long-term behavior change.
  • Cultural Differences: Cultural norms and values regarding discipline and attention may influence how active ignoring is perceived. What is considered appropriate behavior management in one culture may be seen as disrespectful or neglectful in another.
  • Parenting Styles: Different parenting styles may influence attitudes towards active ignoring. Some parents may prefer more assertive approaches to discipline, while others may be more inclined towards gentle or positive parenting methods.
  • Individual Differences: Not all individuals respond the same way to active ignoring. While it may be effective for some, others may become more persistent or escalate their behavior in an attempt to elicit a response.
  • Lack of Understanding: There may be a lack of understanding or misinformation about the principles and proper implementation of active ignoring. This can lead to skepticism or resistance towards its use.

While active ignoring can be a valuable tool in behavior management when used appropriately and ethically, its controversial nature highlights the importance of considering individual needs, cultural factors, and ethical considerations when implementing such strategies.

It’s essential to approach behavior management with sensitivity, empathy, and a willingness to explore alternative approaches when necessary.

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