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Just Ignore It

Doing Nothing Is Hard Work

For most parents, "Just don't react" is the kind of advice that's easier said than done. It's not difficult to understand why. For starters, many things our kids do are really irritating, so we rise to the bait and react. Loudly. Or their whined demands go on long enough that we just give in, even though we know we shouldn't. But regardless of whether the problem is surrendering to a tyrannical toddler's order that you throw out her sandwich and make her a new one cut in squares, or being pushed noisily to the end of your rope by a preschooler crying because she's not allowed to wear your pearl necklace to the playground, ignoring obnoxious behavior doesn't really mean you do nothing. What it means is that you ignore your exasperated or enraged gut response and offer one that is reasoned and calm instead.

Brooke Hummer Mower of Chicago, the mother of a 5- and a 7-year old, admits a lack of parental backbone when it comes to her boys' stalling tactics. "I know I should ignore them when they ask to change their clothes again and again during the half hour before we leave for school," she says. "They start saying, 'These pants are too tight, and I want this hat  -- no, I want the other one.' I know I should put my foot down. Instead, I indulge them." Which brings up the other factor that can make these situations difficult: No parent wants to ignore a child's legitimate requests or feelings. Maybe his pants are too tight.

Effectively ignoring your child as a parenting strategy means sorting out the difference between his deliberate (and often obnoxious) attention-getting behaviors and his very real needs. It means figuring out what's going to set a precedent you'll have to deal with in the future and what's a passing developmental fad. And it means understanding what motivates your child's behavior  -- and your own.

This is what I managed to do successfully on the plane. I ignored the doll-bonking but succeeded in stopping it through a reasoned reaction: diversion via stickers. So how can you disregard the merely annoying while correcting the unacceptable?