Starving Unwanted Behaviour

I looked at my son, anger forming inside of me. Like fingernails on a chalkboard, I heard him whine again, “I don’t wanna get the garbage. It’s too haaaaard.”

Wow, I thought. Life’s going to be hard for him if he thinks collecting the garbage from eight garbage cans in the house was tough. I’d tried ignoring him before but I just couldn’t stand it! It’s like the whining got worse and I ended up giving in and either yelling at him or, more often, just collecting the garbage myself.

Of course those were all points in his favour. He was getting away with his whining. What I didn’t know was that these kinds of behaviours usually get worse before they get better. And that I’d have to ride it out for at least 10-14 days before I could admit defeat and try a different tactic.

Pick Wisely

If you’re going to use this tool, you must prepare yourself. You should know these things:

  • this method will work only if you have a good relationship with your child; if you feel you don’t have a strong connection with the child use one of the other tools instead
  • choose one behaviour at a time that you will “starve”;
  • choose wisely. Some behaviours are not good to ignore, such as aggressive behaviour that puts the child’s or other people’s safety or health at risk;
  • let your child know which behaviour you will be ignoring and that you will be ignoring them when it starts and until it stops;
  • engage with your child immediately when they stop the unwanted behaviour;
  • these behaviours will typically get worse before they get better;
  • work hard to ride it out as it increases over the course of 10-14 days.

This method is very straight forward and now that you know these helpful tips, all you need to do is follow these simple steps and hold on for the ride. It’s about to get bumpy!

Recipe for Tool #13


  • An unwanted behaviour such as whining, temper tantrums, and talking back.
  • A whole lot of patience on your part.
  • An otherwise good relationship with your child. This technique will likely only work if your child wants to be around you. If your child is oblivious to you, this technique won’t work.


  1. Choose the unwanted behaviour with thought.
  2. Let your child know that you will be ignoring that specific behaviour.
  3. Ride it out. Remember, the unwanted behaviour will likely get worse before it gets better.
  4. When your child starts acting appropriately, turn your attention back to them.
  5. Know when to give it up if it’s not working.


If you’ve tried this technique before without success, maybe ignoring unwanted behaviour isn’t right for you or for your child. Think about an alternate methods such as giving your child a time out or removing a privilege each time they exhibit the behaviour you want to get rid of.

Some parents are concerned that ignoring their child will make the child feel unwanted. If you make sure that you immediately turn your attention back to your child when the bad behaviour ends, there is nothing to feel bad about. You’re ignoring the behaviour, not the child.

Positive Reinforcement is Key

One of the most important steps with using this tool is to know when to stop ignoring your child. Studies have proven that selectively ignoring unwanted behaviour followed by positively rewarding desirable behaviour is what makes this method work so well.

The key is to reengage with your child when they show behaviour that you approve of. You can offer them praise and see if they’d like to talk about what happened.

So if you have lots of patience and are ready to ride out one unwanted behaviour at a time for about a week, try nixing them one at a time with starving them out of your child. One day, many years from now, they will look back at their childhood and thank you for putting up with them.


HB is a roller coaster father, one minute he is ecstatic about his children, the next he wonders if life will ever get any better. A long standing member of the 'I yell at my kids' club, he writes with passion and an analytical mind. Dissecting and separating the nuanced strategies that make a good parent great. He experiments with parenting techniques on his 3 year old so you don't have to.

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