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Tactical ignoring, also known as planned ignoring, is a behavioral management strategy used in response to challenging behavior that seeks to receive attention or to gain a reaction from others. It is a commonly used strategy when the person displaying the attention seeking behavior would feel rewarded even by a negative response. An example of this is a cough or noise that is excessively loud in order to gain sympathy from work colleagues, loved ones and friends, which is still seen as desirable attention by the person.
Tactical ignoring can be one element of a behavior management plan when there are a variety of challenging behaviors being addressed. As such, it is a method of responding to a behavior, complemented by a positive reinforcement schedule and skill development in learning a more appropriate method of seeking attention.
Tactical ignoring can also be implemented when a group decides collectively to neglect responsibility for an action (or actions) it has taken, or which it refuses to take - which prove detrimental to a member of that group. Typically, the afflicted member of the group is vulnerable with low social standing, or is the victim of abuse and trauma. Inward conflict the individual espouses as a consequence of his or her traumatic history may be interpreted as "attention seeking" and condemned by the group. The victim of this kind of "tactical ignoring" is at an increased risk of suicide, with little consequence for its perpetrators who often operate with social impunity given the low social standing of the victim.
Tactical ignoring is a strategy where a person gives no outward sign of recognizing a behavior, such as no eye contact, no verbal response and no physical response. However, the person remains aware of the behavior and monitors the individual to ensure their safety and the safety of others.
One of the principles of tactical ignoring is to analyse the behavior to see the message that is being communicated by the individual. This message, the need for attention or to gain a reaction, requires a response. The aim is to provide the child with positive and quality attention for displaying appropriate behaviors, or for not displaying the undesired behavior. When the child displays the undesired behavior in order to gain attention, it may be appropriate to tactically ignore the behavior. This strategy uses the same foundation as that underlying Positive behavior support and Applied Behavior Analysis in that positive behavior is encouraged with positive reinforcement, and unwanted behaviors are discouraged with ignoring or negative reinforcement.
Behaviors that suit tactical ignoring
In some cases, an individual's behavior occurs as a way of getting attention so the best strategy may be to ignore it. The positive consequence of the behavior is getting attention. When this is removed, it is assumed the behavior will eventually cease. While tactical ignoring may be used in conjunction with other techniques in a wide variety of situations, it is most commonly effective in responding to behaviors such as swearing, yelling and sulking.
Tactical ignoring paired with positive reinforcement
Proponents of tactical ignoring claim that it works best when linked with positive reinforcement. An example is when a child is throwing a tantrum to seek attention. In this case, a comforting hug or even a scolding gets the desired attention. However, the parent ignores the tantrum. When it has stopped, the child is immediately rewarded with praise, a treat or favorite activity. It pays to be very specific with positive reinforcement: "It's great when you are quiet" instead of "Good boy!"
- Applied Behavior Analysis
- Challenging behavior
- Positive behavior support
- Association for Positive Behavior Support
- Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Positive Behavior Support