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Have you ever wondered what role your attention plays in your child's behavior? Although it is something we do not always notice, attention is a powerful reinforcement for a behavior to be maintained or increased. For example: if in a meeting you are telling a story and the people gathered there are paying attention to you, you will probably continue talking and even do so with enthusiasm. If, on the other hand, you start talking and notice that no one is paying attention to you, you may end the conversation even though you haven't finished presenting your idea. Exactly the same thing happens to your son. If he receives attention after a behavior, he will continue to do it or repeat it in the future. Sometimes, and without realizing it, we are the ones who, through our attention, can maintain undesirable behaviors.

One method to reduce your child's negative behaviors is precisely to withdraw your attention . It may seem drastic or even negligent, but don't rush. Finish reading this article and then decide whether to include this technique in your educational toolbox or not.

Children know very well how to get our attention to get what they want. However, a child who cries because something happens to him has nothing to do with a child who cries or throws a tantrum because he wants to get his way. For example, a child who cries intensely because he feels uncomfortable, anxious or because he is hot is not the same as another who does so because he wants to have an ice cream and the parents do not consider it appropriate at that moment.

Removing attention from undesirable behaviors has been found to be a very effective method of reducing the likelihood of their recurrence . If you analyze how you react when your child misbehaves, surely on more than one occasion you have chosen not to pay attention and let the tantrum pass, stop insisting or complaining. It's something that comes naturally, especially when we feel exhausted or desperate.

For withdrawal of attention to be effective and constructive in the long term, you must take into account a series of guidelines:

  • Withdrawal of attention is a very useful technique but it must be done in an environment of communication, connection and affection . Dialogue must always be present and the rules must also be made clear from the beginning. This technique should not be applied in isolation but as another strategy within our educational plan. 

  • Analyzing behavior in detail is essential. If your child misbehaves in some situations or places while not in others, it is likely that the context is playing a role . For example: Fernando in the school cafeteria eats everything that is served to him and does not need help. However, at home he complains a lot, there are foods that he does not want to eat and you even have to feed him because he does not want to do it alone. Until that moment, Fernando's parents, to have the party in peace, if he didn't want to eat something, they would exchange it for another food or if he was too lazy to eat alone, they would end up giving him the food. In this case, changes will have to be made when managing meal times at home. One of the ways to do this could be to ignore complaints about the type of food, for example.

  • Preparing the environment and explaining what you expect from them is very useful. Context and background greatly influence human behavior. Following the previous example: Fernando's parents have prepared a weekly menu so that he becomes aware of what is for dinner and they have also made him participate in preparing the food . On the other hand, don't forget the power of incentives . In Fernando's case, his parents have suggested that if he has had a good dinner during the week, without complaining and independently, he can choose the dish he wants for Sunday lunch.

Ana has 5 children between 9 and 4 years old. Going shopping with all of them was quite a challenge. At first they made a big fuss, they fought, they cried, they attracted the attention of all the clients who compassionately encouraged Ana to give them the whims they asked for.
Ana designed a strategy with the objective that they would not throw tantrums or tantrums and would even help her. She agreed with them that if they complied with what was established they could choose, within what was planned to buy, some things to her liking (incentive).
He gave the one who was the most unruly the responsibility of being in line with the cart (it was a supermarket that had a long line to pay), and he gave the others a little basket in which he put the products and they were delighted. with his treasure to take it to the brother who was waiting in line with the big cart. Ana never had any big problems at the supermarket again when she was with all of her children.
Preparing the background well with good strategies and the assignment of responsibilities and, on the other hand, incentives, made the bad behavior disappear.

  • It is very important to select which behaviors you can stop paying attention to and which ones you can't . You have to ask yourself: is it dangerous to ignore this behavior? What is the worst that can happen? Can I resist the temptation to intervene?

  • On the other hand, you should know that this technique works best when they are behaviors that have previously been given attention and this has caused them to increase. For example: Every night Luisa is annoying at bedtime (she plays around, doesn't turn off the light...) and this generates a conflict at home. His parents have tried everything and it's getting worse. In this case, starting to not pay attention can be a good strategy because the behavior is probably highly reinforced by having received so much attention previously.

  • You should not react to your child's behavior in any way . You should not say anything, nor look at your child, take care of your non-verbal language, do not ridicule him, or laugh, or imitate him. The withdrawal of attention should not be aggressive or hostile, your attitude should be respectful but not consenting . It should seem like you are not aware of what is happening and that you are focused on other things . For example: Antonio always wants to eat more. His parents, after making sure that he has eaten a good amount, tell him that there is no more food. Antonio gets angry and starts putting his hand in his mouth, making faces and making all kinds of noises. His parents decide to withdraw attention and begin to talk about plans for the weekend “pretending” they were not listening to Antonio. If you use this technique every time your child has this behavior, it is likely that Antonio will stop behaving that way .

Sometimes without realizing it we are reinforcing inappropriate behaviors due to the attention we give them . Our children seek attention in strange and not always desirable ways. We must be attentive and differentiate what are calls for attention from what are real needs. 

If your child is small (between 0-3 years old) you can try to distract him at first, but do not give him what you consider is not convenient at that moment.

  • The behavior is likely to get worse before it gets better. When your child sees that you are not paying attention to him, he will increase his negative behavior but you should not change your strategy. When he realizes that he is not going to achieve anything that way, he will look for other more suitable ones.

  • This strategy should always be accompanied by paying attention to positive behaviors and praising him for them . They must go hand in hand at all times. We can use reinforcement of an alternative behavior and let the child know what we expect of him.

As you can see, this technique does not mean ignoring your child but rather some undesirable behaviors that by their nature can be ignored. It is a method that allows you not to wear yourself out as much by overlooking certain behaviors while reinforcing the most positive ones. Young children, who do not yet have sufficient coping strategies, frequently pulse  at us. If they win, we make it clear to them what they have to do to get what they want.

Now that you have all the information, what do you think of this technique?



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