Communicating with respect, setting limits, and finding win-win compromises can stop many annoying toddler behaviors. But if you’ve done your best and your toddler is still defying you, it’s time for you to use the next tool: a mild consequence, like a clap growl or kind ignoring.

When your child is scared or hurt, you should do everything you can to soothe her. But there are two situations where your attention actually prolongs upsets:

  • With a child whose tears keep flowing because she’s in front of an audience—the drama queen scenario.

  • With super-stubborn kids who are so proud that they’re forced to continue their protests as long as you are watching them.

In both of these situations, you need to remove the “spotlight” (your attention) and do some kind ignoring.

What is kind ignoring?

Kind ignoring is giving your child a teensy cold shoulder to nudge her back to cooperation. Now, when I say “ignore” I don’t mean you should be rude or cruel or turn your back on really bad behavior. This type of ignoring also shouldn’t be done when your child is frightened, hurt, or genuinely sad. But when you feel your child is being unreasonable and stubborn, a little kind ignoring can be perfect. 

How to use kind ignoring:

Kind ignoring has three steps. You should expect that it will take a little practice for you to get the hang of it… and for your tot to realize that whining doesn’t work anymore. 

Step 1: Connect with respect.

Narrate her actions and feelings like a sportscaster (don’t forget to aim for her sweet spot). “You’re sad …sad…sad! Your face is sad and you’re mad! You want to jump on the table, but Daddy said, ‘No, no, no!’ So now you’re on the floor crying.” 

Step 2: Lovingly turn away.

If your tot continues whining, withdraw your attention with kindness. “You’re crying and mad! Daddy loves you so much, you go ahead and cry, and I’ll be right back!” Then walk to the other side of the room or sit right by your child but pretend not to look at her.

Now act busy for 20 seconds (not so much to make her panic but enough to make your point). 

Key point: As soon as your child stops the annoyance, promptly return, lovingly echo her feelings again, and then offer your message of reassurance, explanation, etc. Finally, feed the meter (hug, give attention, play, or play the boob) for a minute to reward her cooperation. 

Step 3: Return . . . and try again.

If your child continues the annoying “yellow-light” behavior, return when the 20 seconds are up and repeat steps 1 and 2 a few times until your uncivilized friend starts to calm down. 

If your child is particularly stubborn, her crying may persist despite several attempts at kind ignoring. In that case, turn your back for a longer time—a minute or two—until she quiets. Once she calms, return and try to engage her in some play. (Don’t be surprised if she resists at first. She may need to ignore you for a few minutes to save her pride.) 

Warning: When you first try kind ignoring the pestering may temporarily get worse before it gets better. Psychologists call this an extinction burst. Your child thinks, Hmmm . . . whining always worked before. Maybe Mom just didn’t hear me. I better follow her into the next room and yell louder so she hears me! But stick with it and you’ll soon see big improvements. 

If the misbehavior persists, or escalates, despite kind ignoring, you are now in a red-light situation. This requires a stronger “take-charge” consequence, like time-out. Other behaviors that warrant a “take-charge” consequence include any actions that are dangerous or aggressive or that break an important family rule.

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.