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Just Ignore It

Know Why You Matter

Your reaction, or lack thereof, has an effect only because your child cares about and notices so completely what you do and think  -- despite apparent evidence to the contrary. This is why seeming to do nothing, in response to their best efforts to get you to do otherwise, can be so effective.

"It's a powerful tool," says Mary Engleman-Kemmer of Wichita, KS, the mom of three, ages 12, 9, and 5. "Mine know they haven't pleased me if I ignore them. If I'm not reacting to them, it's like they're in a time-out."

Your child's attention to what you think and feel is also the reason that allowing yourself to get caught up in a cycle of knee-jerk scolding can be detrimental. Nobody wants her child to say "poop" and "pee" over and over. But just because a toddler or preschooler is doing this during the course of a few days doesn't mean he's on the road to swearing like a sailor (make a big deal of it, though, and it may last longer than a few days).

"If your child does something that is not dangerous but obnoxious, and you respond in an overly negative way, you run the risk of starting a vicious cycle that ultimately has a life of its own," explains psychologist Ernest Frugé, Ph.D., coauthor of Why Children Misbehave and What to Do About It. "In other words, a minor incident could turn into a major problem. And the lesson your child learns is that he can get your attention immediately through irritating behavior."

Ironically, attention may not have been his original goal. He may just have been experimenting with language, figuring out what he is and isn't allowed to say, a common goal of potty talk at this age. So how should you react?