I was at the grocery store and the child could be heard miles in either direction. She was raving, raging, writhing on the floor, screaming, and maniacally shouting. When the two women came to the little girl, they calmly stepped over her and continued on. The child then stood up, ran past them, flung herself to the ground and continued. The ladies kept walking, and when they approached her, they calmly stepped over and continued shopping. I saw them while checking out and the same routine was happening. As they walked passed my register I heard the Mom say to the granny, “If we just ignore it, she will stop doing it. We cannot reward behaviour like this with attention.”
This advice is not new to me. I’ve heard it many, many times before. The theory goes like this, “Tantrums and other bad behavior can be done away with if ignored. Attention is a reward so if we give attention to an unruly child we are rewarding them. If we ignore the behavior they will stop and choose a more mature way.” I’ve seen many parents ignore children until they “use their manners” like they have been taught. Mommy doesn’t listen when rude Johnny is being demanding. If she does it will re-inforce this rudeness and he will do it again.
I simply think this is bad advice and a bad strategy. Maybe you don’t agree with me but let me give it a shot to convince you. Here are four reasons I think “Ignoring bad behaviour” creates exactly the opposite of what I know we all want for our children.
1. It’s Passive-Aggressive
Let’s be honest. We call it “not rewarding bad behavior” but another term for it is “giving the silent treatment”. Instead of using clear communication we are resorting to passive-aggressive communication. Instead of giving clear expectations with clear consequences, we give the cold shoulder and let our silence fill in the blanks.
This is not clear and loving communication. It is passively telling the child, “I don’t like what you are doing and you should be able to guess that”. God never does this with us… He never, ever ignores us until we behave. He is active in his love… whether for encouragement or for discipline.
2. It should not be replicated
This is huge for me. As parents we should be demonstrating what healthy, loving relationships look like. The silent treatment is modelling the opposite. This parenting strategy says that when there are relational difficulties employ the following steps:
a) Give the person the silent treatment
b) Refuse to acknowledge them until they measure up
c) Make the person guess what is wrong
d) Make them come to you, don’t initiate the first step.
We should be doing the opposite at all ages of relationships:
a.) Always communicate clearly, don’t be passive-aggressive and make a person guess.
c.) Acknowledge hurt and pain. If they are hurting you, tell them.
d.) Never make a person guess, tell them exactly what is difficult, hurtful or challenging. Talk it out.
d.) Take the first step towards one another no matter who is at fault.
I don’t want my sons growing up to be husbands that utilise this strategy. I don’t want them telling their wives, “Until you get over your grumpiness, I’m simply going to ignore you.”
3. It say’s, “My love has to be earned”
This parenting strategy says, “There are certain ways to behave in this family and we will ignore you if you don’t behave that way”. Active discipline is love (at least that’s what God says). Active discipline says, “Because you are part of this family you will never, ever be ignored.”
Often I have had to remove one of my children from the rest of the family because they were so out of control. But I didn’t ignore them. I went to them, actively responded, clearly explained expectations and how they could come back to be a part the larger group again.
4. It’s Lying
“Your behaviour won’t affect me! Look at the whole family, we are having fun despite your grumpy mood!” Isn’t that a lie? And can’t our children see through that lie?
Our choices deeply affect each other. It also tells the other siblings to live a lie. I’ve seen siblings instructed, “Just ignore your brother and carry on. We will not reward his tantrum with attention.” So, the whole family basically moves into theatre mode… all acting out a show which is not true. “Little brother may be a horror right now but I need to pretend this doesn’t affect me.”
My youngest son recently had one of those epic melt-downs. Afterwards I just casually asked his brother, “How did you feel about that last hour?” I was caught by surprise when he instantly broke in to sobs because he felt so weighted down by the whole scenario. I’m so thankful I never told him, “Don’t reward his behaviour by being sad… carry on as normal soldier!!”
As parents I think we can do better. We can actively love and not passively ignore. Even if we don’t see results right away, actively dealing with those hard moments is always a better choice. What do you think?