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Planned Ignoring: Tips for Recommending Planned Ignoring in ABA Parent Training

Planned Ignoring: Tips for Recommending Planned Ignoring in ABA Parent Training

Simply ignoring a child’s “maladaptive” behaviors is not necessarily always the most effective strategy. However, using a strategy known as planned ignoring can be beneficial in many ways for some situations. When using planned ignoring, it is important that ABA providers are only recommending a parent “ignore” their child’s behavior when the reasoning behind that recommendation is justified.

Additionally, the provider should emphasize that it is not about ignoring the child, but instead, the use of planned ignoring is about ignoring the behavior.

Planned ignoring is a behavioral intervention strategy that attempts to teach children that maladaptive behaviors are not going to lead to the results that the child is looking for. For instance, if a child is speaking in a rude or inappropriate tone in the home, a parent could ignore this effort to gain the parent’s attention and instead the parent could respond to another child who is speaking more calmly and respectfully.

The parent could use differential reinforcement of alternative behaviors to reinforce the child for speaking in a respectful and “inside voice” in the home and use planned ignoring when the child is speaking in a disrespectful or louder tone of voice.

Planned ignoring is one way of using the behavioral concept known as extinction. Extinction is when a reinforcer is no longer provided after the behavior of interest. The reinforcer that was previously maintaining the behavior (such as attention) is no longer being provided after the behavior when extinction is being used. Planned ignoring is just one example of how extinction can be used. The intention is that using planned ignoring will lead to the target behavior happening less often or being eliminated (Sheuermann & Hall, 2008; Gable, et. al., 2009).

So, in the example of the parent using planned ignoring to address a child’s inappropriate (or disrespectful) way of speaking, planned ignoring attempts to get this child to speak disrespectfully less often. When planned ignoring is used in combination with DRA (differential reinforcement of alternative behaviors), it is more likely that positive outcomes will occur.

In the scenario being discussed, using DRA and planned ignoring together is likely to help the child learn to use a more appropriate (more “respectful”) tone of voice. As with any ABA concept, we may need to individualize the strategies being used for each child. For example, some children may benefit from receiving a verbal, visual, or gestural prompt to use their appropriate voice. As an ABA provider, using clinical judgment for what is going to be the most effective for each child is necessary.

Providers should always consider the function of the behavior and what replacement behaviors could be taught when recommending strategies for parents to use. Planned ignoring is a strategy that has a specific purpose and designed to achieve specific outcomes.

ABA providers should also keep in mind that the Behavior Analyst Certification Board states that we are not to utilize punishment procedures before exhausting the use of positive reinforcement strategies unless necessary for a justifiable reason (such as safety concerns). In the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, the BACB also states that reinforcement of desired alternative behaviors should be incorporated when using any kind of punishment procedure.

Although in the common use of the term, “punishment” can be viewed as an undesirable parenting strategy. On the other hand, in ABA, punishment is referring to an intervention strategy of adding or removing something following a behavior that reduces the likelihood of the reoccurrence of that behavior. It is important to remember that punishment procedures, even in ABA, should be carefully approached and that the least restrictive and more positive strategies should be the primary mode of intervention.


When using planned ignoring, consider the following aspects of the strategy:

  • Pairing planned ignoring with positive reinforcement strategies

    • Research supports the implementation of positive reinforcement for alternative behaviors when you are trying to reduce maladaptive behaviors. Additionally, the BACB instructs behavior analysts to use the combination of reinforcement when using any form of punishment procedure (attempts to reduce the frequency of a behavior).

  • Contingency

    • Using planned ignoring should be specific to the target behavior. The parent should ignore the behavior that is identified in the behavior plan. The use of planned ignoring should be contingent upon the behavior. When the child displays the target behavior, the parent implements planned ignoring.

  • Immediacy

    • The parent should use planned ignoring immediately upon the child displaying the target behavior. Immediacy is important for both responding to the inappropriate behavior and also for reinforcing the desired alternative behavior.

  • Consistency

    • Consistency is important for any behavioral intervention. When using planned ignoring, parents should be committed to the strategy. If they occasionally give attention to the problem behavior, this could result in the child receiving intermittent reinforcement which may make the behavior even more difficult to get rid of. Sometimes parents don’t realize that even their facial expressions or body language provide certain forms of attention or recognition of their child’s behavior. It can be tricky to always be consistent since people’s behavior, even the behavior of parents, tends to be displayed quickly. People usually react “out of habit” or without really thinking about it which can make changing how a parent responds to their child difficult. This is also true for the kids. It can be difficult for kids to change their behavior.

  • Specificity

    • Parents should be specific about the behavior they are targeting. This is true for the maladaptive behavior they are trying to decrease and also for the adaptive behavior they are trying to increase in their child. For the parents’ personal benefit, to make it easier to know what behavior they are supposed to use planned ignoring for and what behavior they should use positive reinforcement for, being specific about the behaviors is helpful. Also, for the benefit of the child, knowing exactly what they are expected to do and what not to do helps the intervention be more effective.

  • Characteristics of the consequences

    • It is important to consider the outcome of the use of planned ignoring. Also, being aware of the function of the behavior in the first place will help parents and ABA professionals to know if planned ignoring may be a useful strategy. If the consequence of the behavior happens to be something other than attention from the parent, such as escape from demands or attention from a sibling, then planned ignoring may not be effective. If in fact the function of the behavior is attention from the parent, but the use of planned ignoring doesn’t seem to be working, the ABA provider can help the parent to further investigate any reasons why the strategy may not be effective at that time and see what modifications or recommendations could be made.

  • The effect on the target behavior

    • Informing parents that the target behavior may increase before it decreases can prevent some frustration from the display of an extinction burst. As an ABA professional, following up with parents on the effect that planned ignoring is having on the target behavior is important to help the parent achieve the best outcomes with this intervention (Hester, et. al., 2009).


When using planned ignoring, it may be helpful to explain to the child before you implement the strategy what will be happening. This is especially helpful for kids who are able to comprehend verbal explanations and verbal rules. For a child who has the ability to understand expressive language displayed by someone else, telling them ahead of time that you will not be responding to them when they show inappropriate behavior, can help to reduce the confusion or increased problem behaviors that may occur during the use of the strategy.

An example of explaining the use of planned ignoring ahead of time for parents you may work with is the following:

A parent has a child who tends to make demands to the parent, such as “Mom, get me a drink!” or “Pack my lunch!” When kids speak in this type of demanding tone rather than in a way that some parents may prefer the child to speak (especially for a child who has the ability to do so), parents may get frustrated. They may feel at a loss for what to do when their child speaks in this disrespectful tone or how to teach the child to be more polite or respectful.

When using planned ignoring as a strategy to decrease a child making demands of their parent and to increase more appropriate requests, parents should also incorporate the use of DRA of the appropriate requests. If, in the past, the parent actually did what the child wanted when the child made the “demand”, even if done so unintentionally, the child may have been reinforced for speaking in this way. It is also possible that the child learned to speak this way as a generalization of how they speak to another person or due to this type of speech being modeled by anyone else they had encountered in their environment. The child may have learned to speak in an undesirable tone based on a number of other factors, as well. It is important not to blame a parent but instead to help them work toward a solution.

To use planned ignoring, the parent may want to have a discussion with the child ahead of time to tell the child that the parent will no longer be responding to them when they give a demand. Instead, the parent will respond (speak) to the child if they use more respectful requests. The parent should give examples that apply to their child. For instance, the parent could say to their child, “Instead of telling me to get you a drink, you can say ‘Mom, will you get me a drink please?’”

At first, the child may, out of habit (or in ABA terms, based upon their learning history and development of behavioral contingencies), give a demand as they typically do. Depending on the child, the parent may need to provide a prompt for the desired appropriate behavior. For example, the parent could slightly nod their head to give the child an indication that the parent is not going to give the child what he or she wants. Also, the parent could simply give a short reminder to verbally prompt the appropriate type of request by saying something like, “Ask, don’t tell.” They could use whatever short phrase that would make sense for their child.

Now providing these prompts does somewhat contradict the idea of planned ignoring in that you should not be giving your attention to the child during a planned ignoring implementation. However, when we use our clinical judgement as ABA professionals, we can combine various ABA concepts to lead to the most optimal outcome for each child.

Another point to remember is that when using any form of extinction, an extinction burst could occur. This is when the behavior gets worse before it gets better. It is important to inform parents that this may happen but also be sure to prepare them for any safety issues that may occur, such as that a child may begin to get so upset that they throw items across the room or increase their verbal or physical aggression. Safety is always top priority and should be considered.

Using planned ignoring as a recommendation in ABA parent training can be useful in that it can provide parents with a tool they can implement to create improvements in their child’s behavior and teach their child new skills (particularly when combined with differential reinforcement of alternative behaviors). However, be mindful that you are following up with parents on how they are implementing planned ignoring and the effectiveness of the strategy.


  1. Identify a session date that would be appropriate for you to discuss planned ignoring with the parent you are working with.

  2. If possible, demonstrate the use of planned ignoring or role play the idea with the parent.

  3. Plan your follow up session to check on how the parent is using the strategy of planned ignoring (and DRA).

  4. Provide feedback on the parent’s implementation of planned ignoring and DRA.

  5. Follow up with the parent about the child’s progress and maintenance of their use of the strategy of planned ignoring.


ABA Parent Training: Tips for Quality Applied Behavior Analysis Parent Training


Gable, R. A., Hester, P. H., Rock, M. L., & Hughes, K. G. (2009). Back to basics: Rules, praise, ignoring, and reprimands revisited. Intervention in School and Clinic, 44(4), 195-205. doi:

Hester, P. P., Hendrickson, J. M., & Gable, R. A. (2009). Forty years later - the value of praise, ignoring, and rules for preschoolers at risk for behavior disorders. Education & Treatment of Children, 32(4), 513-535. Retrieved from

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