I recently came across this video again of a prime example of negative attention-seeking at it’s best. This toddler has obviously had some pay-off (in the form of attention) for his tantruming in the past. He tries to thwart his parents’ (and the family dog’s) best attempts at ignore his tantruming. When the family members turn away and leave the room, he quiets down, gets up to find them, then falls to the ground to tantrum again. It is hysterical.
I’m sure it’s not so hysterical when you’re the one dealing with the tantrums. So what’s a parent (and dog) to do? Ignore. Ignore immediately and ignore completely. Turn away, do NOT make eye contact or inadvertently encourage the behavior by smiling or laughing (as was difficult to do in this video). If you want to knock out a behavior, you’d better be willing to ignore for the long haul. The child exhibits the behavior because there’s been some pay-off in the past. Once you decide to start ignoring, the natural reaction of the child will be to increase the intensity and duration of the behavior. So, if you start off ignoring, the behavior initially will get worse (the child is thinking, “I know this works! It has worked before, so I’ll just up the ante.”) If you break down and pay attention at the increased intensity level, you are creating a monster. The child will now start off at the new, higher intensity and duration level. By the way, the reason he doesn’t let up in the video is because he’s getting attention in the form of the camera and everyone looking at him while taping as they walk past and then he finds them again.
So, the keys to success with this technique are to:
- ignore immediately and completely
- ignore for the long haul
- be consistent and committed