Decide Beforehand What You Will React ToObviously, dangerous activities or violent fights among siblings can't be ignored -- not even for a moment. Nor can the behavior that you and your partner have agreed beforehand just isn't acceptable. Both of these situations require consistent and immediate attention. And by reacting strongly to only those few things you've decided are beyond the pale, you increase the impact and the effectiveness of your response.
What parents find they simply can't ignore differs from family to family, even situation to situation. Carol Colby of Thomaston, GA, the mother of two boys, 2 and 4, shares my inability to ignore tantrumlike screaming, especially in front of others. "When my parents visit, my four-year-old acts up because he thinks I'm less likely to discipline him in front of them. But it drives me nuts, so I don't ignore it. I just tell my parents, 'Okay, I'm going to deal with this even when you are here so I can change it.'"
For others, like Mower, screaming isn't nearly the issue that language has become for her 7-year-old. "It wasn't as big a deal when he was little and didn't know what he was saying. But now, when he calls me names, I can't ignore it. There's always a consequence, like no TV."
What you respond to will change over time depending on your child's age, and even on your own growth as a parent. Engleman-Kemmer admits that until she had her second child, she never ignored anything her first one did. "I just reacted -- until one day at the park he threw a tantrum, and I needed to put the baby in the stroller. I ignored him because it was inconvenient to do anything else, and he just pulled himself together on his own. That's when I realized I'd been reinforcing his behavior."
As for my own difficult-to-ignore parenting situations, I'm still striving for such successes as the baby-banging episode, and I'm making progress. Anna had been stretching out nap- and bedtime rituals with a litany of requests -- a quick snack, one more book -- so I began simply acknowledging them but not acting on them. Since then, I've had her down in record time. The other day, as naptime approached, she screamed and cried that she wasn't tired. Fifteen minutes later, having just asked for a drink of water, she was sound asleep in my arms.
Contributing editor Barbara Rowley is the author of Baby Days: Activities, Ideas, and Games for Enjoying Daily Life With a Child Under Three.