Have you ever tried to make dinner while your 3 year old whines that she is hungry, or that she wants you to hold her? You explain that you are making dinner and she will eat soon, but she continues to make annoying whining noises, hang on your legs, ask the same questions repeatedly, scoot in between you and the counter, or upset her younger sister just to get your attention? That is Self-Indulgent behavior. The corrections for Self-Indulgent behavior are Ignoring and the Either-Or Choice.
Self-indulgent behavior is guaranteed to irritate even the most patient of parents. You can recognize self-indulgent behavior when children whine, argue, throw themselves on the floor and scream, accuse the adult of not loving them, threaten not to love the adult, clam up when they are spoken to, interrupt, pout, criticize ("Stop singing, that hurts my ears!"), bicker with other kids, cry even when there seems to be no real reason for it, tattle, constantly demand that adults do things for them, and on and on. More than any of the other misbehaviors, the goal of a child's self-indulgent behavior is to control the situation by being the center of your attention.
There are two parts of the correction for self-indulgent behavior. The first part of the correction, given when the child is just being irritating, is to ignore the behavior. Self-indulgent behavior that is ignored will drop away, if you remember not to sabotage yourself by procrastinating,talking about the behavior, or negative scripting. The second part of the correction is to be used when the child is not only being irritating, but also infringing on your rights. This second part of the correction involves setting up a situation in which you can again ignore the behavior by giving the child an Either-Or Choice. When self-indulgent behavior is ignored, there is no reason for the child to continue the behavior. Attention is what the child is trying to get from you. Behavior you give emotional attention to will continue, especially self-indulgent behavior.
Ignoring is not an easy correction to use. Ignoring may seem like a passive, even cowardly, response. But ignoring is not a passive correction. It is one of the most difficult of the corrections to administer effectively because it requires that you give the child no attention at all. This means no eye contact, no facial response, in fact, no body language response whatsoever, and especially no talking. Remembering to do all this at a time when you probably feel instead like giving the child a whack on the bottom is not an easy thing to do. Ignoring means to treat children as though they are invisible, as if they are not even in the room with you.
Ignoring self-indulgent behavior in a public place is one of the hardest of all corrections to pull off successfully because the adult usually is keenly aware of all those strangers eyeing the situation disapprovingly, waiting for the adult to do something about that child. Hard as it is, you must resist the temptation to treat the child as you think other people expect you to. Stick to your own program.
Giving the Either-Or Choice
Now the second part of this correction. Every parent and teacher knows it is not always possible to ignore. Sometimes the child will engage in self-indulgent behavior in a way that interferes with your or other people's rights. If the children jump on your furniture, for example, or argue and yell when you are trying to talk on the phone or when you have visitors in the house, or when you and your spouse are trying to watch a favorite television program, they are clearly infringing on your rights. In these situations you need to use the second stage of the Ignoring correction, the Either-Or Choice, because when children infringe on your rights, you can no longer ignore their behavior.
Keep in mind that either-or choices are not intended to be punitive. You are simply setting up a situation in which you are free to ignore the self-indulgent behavior. Only by convincing your child that she cannot control the rest of the family and have all attention focused on her because of her self-indulgent behavior, will you teach her not to act this way. You are involved in a teaching process. Teaching new behaviors takes time. If you can carry out this correction consistently, and remember not to sabotage yourself, your child’s behavior will change. But you must be willing to invest time and energy in the effort to change her self-indulgent behavior.
The main requirement for the either-or choice correction is for the child to go somewhere else so you can continue to ignore the self-indulgent behavior “You can either choose to (stop the self-indulgent behavior)” or “You can go (be self-indulgent somewhere else).” The goal of the either-or choice correction is not to get the child to obey a command, but rather to set up a situation in which you can again ignore the child's self-indulgent behavior.
Taken from Joanne Nordling, Taking Charge.
The next post will cover Ignoring and the Either-Or Choice for teens.