Toddlers, Teens and Temper Tantrums

Mothers know that when toddlers melt down into a tantrum, often the best thing you can do is just ignore them until they calm down. There is no reasoning with them when they are in that state. Recently I have been pondering the similarities between toddlers and teenagers.

One of the cool things about my work is that there are a lot of trainings, and I love learning. Amazingly after all the trainings I have been to, my best tool is the one I learned from my own children when they were toddlers. Planned Ignoring. As a mom I never gave it a name, it was just something that I did. “Planned Ignoring” is actually one of the treatment tools we are taught to use in my work. It means just what it sounds like: ignoring bad behavior, and giving attention to positive behaviors.

Most of the time it works well and quickly: remove the negative attention and they calm down and go to their rooms. Teenagers obviously have more verbal ability than toddlers and they like to argue. Planned ignoring thwarts this as well. There is just no point in arguing or getting into a power struggle. Sometimes it is not quite so simple. The boy will sometimes take his bad behavior to the next level in an attempt to get attention. One night we were ignoring a boy whose main problem was that he was high on marijuana. When we ignored him, he walked into the staff office (a huge violation of the rules in itself), we pretended not to notice. Then he got some shaving cream and toothpaste (the boys hygiene supplies are stored in the office) and proceeded to decorate the office with them. If he had done that on Swing shift, they would have restrained him, but we don’t have enough staff for that so we just kept ignoring him. Then he sat on a chair outside the office and sang to us and made squirrel noises. It was hard not to laugh at that point. Finally, he got tired and went to bed. Ah, relief!

I would like to tell you that we made him clean up the mess the next day. If one of my children had made that mess, that is what I would have done. However, he wasn’t supposed to be in the Staff Office to begin with, and “inviting” him back in to clean up his mess was really not an option. Besides it needed to be cleaned up before Day Shift arrived. So he received some other (less effective) consequence instead. The point is he did go to bed. It took longer than we would have liked, but it worked.

The moral of the story is: the next time you ignore a screaming toddler who is in tantrum mode, remember you are not just a parent ignoring a child, you are giving him or her a therapeutic treatment. Don’t you feel better already?

Toddlers, or teens, planned ignoring is powerful.


  1. I use that with my little one, but my husband is having a hard time with it. He tries to send her to her room, but he gets no where with it. How do I help him see reason???

  2. Hi Pam!I think talking, talking and talking is the best thing. Ask him why he thinks sending her to her room is best. Ask why he is uncomfortable with “planned ignoring”. Listen to his answers, and then share your ideas, your heart. It maybe that the best thing that comes from the conversation is not better discipline methods (though that is the goal) but a better understanding of one another, who can resist that?! 🙂 Leslie

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