The Problem With Planned Ignoring

Do you hate scrolling through a post, trying to find the answer to something you needed YESTERDAY?

I’m going to make this easy and get right to the answer. You deserve that! 

Planned Ignoring is a behavioral strategy …

That includes three parts:

  1. deciding in advance
  2. to withhold attention, not acknowledge
  3. the occurance of a behavior

Planned Ignoring has been adopted by schools

Educators are encouraged to use planned ignoring as their primary response for any behavior that interferes with instruction in hopes that the classroom routine can continue as flawlessly as possible.  

Planned Ignoring was never intended to be used for EVERYTHING.

The problem with Planned Ignoring is …

It has become the new default.

Need more reasons?

Here you go!

  1. Planned Ignoring is not effective in a classroom setting 

Have you noticed that even when you ignore the behavior, it continues anyway?

In some situations, the behavior even intensifies and gets worse. (hint: there’s even a behavioral term for that – extinction burst)

All you need to know is that it’s unlikely that you are in a situation where using planned ignoring is effective.

Here’s a scenario where it is more effective:

  • during one-to-one or small group sessions
  • where individualized support is available
  • where one adult can intentionally ignore the problem behavior
  • while simultaneously teaching a more useful behavior, to replace that problem behavior

    Planned Ignoring also works great for mild behaviors (example: student takes shoes off, student puts their sweatshirt hood up) when your focus is on problem-solving much higher intensity behaviors (property destruction, aggression).

    Teachers who are able to plan ignore these smaller (less intense) opportunities to critique and correct have a better chance at building a relationship with the student and being heard when it counts.

2. Planned Ignoring teaches your students to be less aware of their surroundings. 

When we (as educators) ignore our environment, it models that our students should also try to ignore their environment. Remember, children are learning how the world works by watching how adults react and respond to their surroundings, learning boundaries, and absorbing what is ok and not ok.

You know this.. which is why many teachers feel apprehensive about being told to ignore behavior! This is why you are here reading this. So let this be your validation that this strategy was never meant to be the end-all, be-all of behavioral management. For many of you, ignoring behaviors that are highly disruptive or unsafe never feels quite right. So let’s dive into the why

3. Planned Ignoring teaches your students to ignore their intuition.

You know the sense of uneasiness (gut instinct) you get when something doesn’t feel right? When a child acknowledges something feeling off, unsafe, or highly disruptive, that is a MEANINGFUL skill. For a million reasons, we want our children to lean into their intuition and have the skills to acknowledge when a situation feels unsafe. *Warning: Direct Statement Ahead* A child needs to know how to protect themselves from every nuance of physical, emotional, and sexual harassment and abuse.  

4. Planned Ignoring teaches your students to avoid setting boundaries.

We want students to learn how to set boundaries for themselves. Remember – boundaries are the rules you make for yourself about “what is ok” and “what is not ok.” These aren’t RULES that you put on other people. 

If you imagine your space as a bubble, these are the rules for YOU. 

I highly recommend teaching your students to list what is ok and what is not ok to them. This is a great way to get the conversation started about boundaries and what they are!

5. Planned Ignoring teaches your students the wrong message of TAKING CARE OF YOU

When educators say I’ll handle it, take care of yourself, or focus on YOU… and YOU, the child, see the adult ignore their surroundings and continue the lesson, it sends the wrong message about what it truly means to take care of ourselves.

Taking care of yourself is being aware of your environment and establishing what is ok and not ok with you. We will get more into that!

So what do we do?

This is something I teach in my online course. But don’t worry, I won’t leave you without providing some actionable solutions.

Here is your answer: create a new default response

How can I start doing that now?

  1. When a student notices changes in the environment – acknowledge it

Stay as neutral as a weather reporter. Sample script – “The classroom got loud for a moment, didn’t it?”

2. When a student addresses a boundary being crossed – acknowledge it

Sample script – It sounds like you are not ok with (e.g., others touching you). Do you know what to do if someone does that again?

3. When a student brings a problem behavior to your attention – acknowledge it

Sample script – “I saw that (or I didn’t see that). Thank you for letting me know. Do you know what to do if it happens again?”

I’ll leave you with this

It’s too easy to say shouldn’t parents be teaching their children this?

Yes. And you know what?

You’ll start to feel better when you embrace the mindset that

  • every adult is 1 adult
  • every adult has the opportunity to help raise the next generation
  • by modeling to children how the world works

Because you know what? Our children are watching us whether we consciously decide to embrace this ownership or not.

follow along our journey!

@thebehaviordetective