The Two Words Every Parent Needs to Hear
This simple mantra can do wonders for your stress level.
You know when your kid is doing that one thing that drives you absolutely crazy—whining in a high-pitched voice that she needs another sparkly JoJo bow, negotiating with the intensity of a Wall Street lawyer for a later bedtime, or refusing to eat a healthy dinner until you give up and serve Coco Puffs? Well, parenting expert Catherine Pearlman, PhD, has come up with a revolutionary method, based on years of scientific research, for getting your child to stop it once and for all.
Wait, what? You’re supposed to let that madness continue, kicking back with a glass of frosé while your kid runs like a mad chicken around the house?
Yep. (Sort of.)
“Our instinct is to respond when someone is pushing our buttons,” says Pearlman, whose book Ignore It! How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction was released Tuesday. “But when you react to your child’s behavior—even negatively—it serves as encouragement.” Whether you cave in to your child’s demands, get sucked into negotiating (“Okay, but only 10 more minutes of SpongeBob!”), or even just turn your full attention to scolding him, your attention-seeking child is scoring a win, which only encourages more of the same.
But by going against your instinct and ignoring the bad behavior, you can turn the situation around in a matter of days, Pearlman says. Of course, she says, there are certain behaviors that should never be ignored, including anything destructive, dangerous, harmful to another child, or sneaky; likewise, you should never ignore crying that comes from genuine fear or pain (however, fake crying, which usually involves no tears and tends to get louder as you walk closer, is completely ignorable).
Once you’ve figured out your triggers and want to try the method, take these steps:
Literally Turn Your Back on You Child
“I recommend parents turn away so there is no eye contact, and start flipping through the mail or reading a magazine,” Pearlman says. “You have to go to your happy place in your brain, and consciously disconnect from the emotional moment.”
But Keep Your Ears Open
In reality, you are only selectively ignoring your child, Pearlman adds. “Stay nearby and listen for when the behavior stops,” she says. As soon as it does…
Turn the Mood Around
When the whining, negotiating, or other annoying behavior stops, turn around and start cheerfully talking about something else. “You can offer some Goldfish, play a game, or ask how their day was in school,” Pearlman suggests. This way you are giving your child the attention he craves, but only after acceptable behavior returns. Don’t hold a grudge or even mention the previous incident.
Of course, Ignoring It works best at home—if your kid is throwing a tantrum in a restaurant or movie theater, you owe it to the other patrons to take her outside. But once you start the plan, your child will quickly learn his old methods of getting what he wants aren’t working out, and that meltdown in the aisle at Target should be pretty short-lived, says Pearlman. Also, you have to commit to the plan, even if your kid doubles down and starts behaving worse after your first few attempts to ignore it. Follow-through is everything, Pearlman explains.
“I use this method with my own kids, and it makes me feel so much better, like a weight has lifted off me,” says Pearlman, a mom of two, ages 10 and 14. “It really preserves the relationship and you have more energy, joy, and engagement for your child.”