How Do I Ignore Inappropriate Behavior?!


By: Elanor Neff, M.S., BCBA

                Your child just dumped his entire plate of dinner onto the floor, looks at you, and starts laughing. You told your child to put his shoes on and instead he bolts from you laughing and screaming. Periodically your daughter lets out a very loud scream, looks at you, then screams again. You asked a trusted professional what you should do and they responded with “just ignore the behavior”. Have you tried it? Or maybe this strategy doesn’t make any sense…you feel that there needs to be a consequence for the “bad” stuff. In this blog post I am going to offer a few strategies on how to appropriately ignore the inappropriate behavior. Before going on though, I want to offer up a full disclosure statement: It is important that if your child is engaging in intense problem behavior that causes harm to themselves or others, it would be best to consult with a professional prior to implementing these strategies

1.       First thing is first: Stay calm! When the food hits the ground, when the scream pierces your ears, when the frustration builds as they take off running away from you, do everything you can to remain calm. Refrain from screaming, refrain from (as we call it in my house) the “disapproving sigh”. Keep a neutral face, your body language should convey that nothing at all just happened. This will be hard, really really hard. But remember, if you want to effectively change your child’s behavior you first must change yours.

2.       Refrain from verbal reprimands. It is tempting to yell “no” or “I can’t believe you did that!”. There is a chance the verbal reprimand is serving as a form of attention (even if it is negative attention, they are still getting a rise out of you).

3.       Follow through on all tasks: This is where ignoring behavior becomes tricky. You should look at each behavior that your child is doing (not just the inappropriate ones). So, for example, you told your child to put their shoes on and instead they ran from you screaming. The behaviors at play are: A) Running B) Screaming C) Putting on shoes. If you stand back and ignore all 3 of those behaviors than this will only create more problems. Instead, ignore the behaviors A & B (running and screaming) but don’t ignore behavior C (putting on shoes). Follow steps 1 and 2 above, prompt your child to put their shoes on.

4.       Once the inappropriate behavior has stopped, reengage with your child. For example, you have picked the food up from the floor and they have resorted back to finishing their meal, give lots of praise and attention. If they were finished with their meal, place the food back in front of them (keep your hand on the plate of food) and prompt them to request to be done. It is important to provide your attention back to them once they are engaging in appropriate behavior.


The above are just a few strategies CSERV clinicians like myself practice and teach caregivers how to implement themselves throughout our telehealth sessions.  For more information on how to obtain ABA therapy through videoconferencing please contact us at or checkout our website at