Ignoring Your Children

We had dinner at our friend’s house a few weeks ago. Halfway through the evening, one of the other dinner guests complimented our children. She asked what our secret was to having such well-behaved kids who were so content simply playing together, rather than bickering and running upstairs every five minutes like the other kids there. We just smiled and said thank you, beaming inside and exchanging proud glances. But, there is actually a secret and I’m going to share it with all of you right now: We ignore our children. And they are better for it.

Yes, it’s true.

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Our kids are night owls; they are often up until 9:30 or 10 at night. It sucks to not have everyone tucked in and sleeping by eight, but our solution is to make them stay upstairs and play together while we pay as little attention to them as possible. And, they do. They play for hours and hours and hours while we try to pretend they are sleeping. They play zoo and teacher. They play restaurant and camp. They play babysitter and grocery store. They actually use the million stuffed animals that line their beds. They play and play and play, endlessly. They can play anywhere and everywhere because of it and I think it’s been the best thing we’ve done for their sibling relationship.

It doesn’t end there. When they fight, I don’t run in to break it up immediately and eventually most spats seem to resolve themselves. Some even end in a spontaneous explosion of giggles when they realize how ridiculously they’ve been behaving. I don’t jump up at each and every minor injury and they simply run over for a quick kiss and then they are back to the game at hand.

Call it laziness, call it parenting of convenience, call it whatever. But, it’s been working. Sure, they’re not perfect (at all) and they drive us crazy more often than not, but they really are more capable of entertaining themselves than most kids we know.

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The New York Times just wrote about the Effort to Restore Children’s Play. The movement has focused on the educational value of play, with efforts beginning made to restore recess and unstructured playtime to early childhood and elementary schools. A coalition called Play for Tomorrow staged a giant play date in Central Park last fall which attracted more than 50,000 people. Scientists and experts are weighing in on the benefits of play verses extra-curricular activities or computer time. But, it’s really not that complicated: Just ignore them and they will play. No computers, no TVs, no gadgets. Just good old-fashioned play.

Sometimes, the less you do as a parent, the more they get. So, go ahead: Leave them alone. Put on some ear plugs, grab a cup of coffee, a trashy magazine and reflect on my guidance.

You’re welcome.

About the writer


What started as an innocent on-line baby book to chronicle Jill Smokler’s stay-at-home days with her children, quickly transformed into a vibrant community of parents, brought together by a common theme: Parenting doesn’t have to be perfect. Welcome to Scary Mommy!


Val 1 year ago

I actually sought out reading material on this very subject. I’m a SAHM to a 2.5yr old and one on the way (thank god because this kid needs a playmate). Although I don’t expect her to play unassisted for hours at a time I’m starting to have an expectation to be able to have coffee and do some light reading online in the mornings after she’s fed. I find myself more and more telling her “it’s time to go play now”. I just cannot be her 24/7 playmate. It’s not good for either of us. I feel like I’m going nuts and I don’t want think it’s healthy for her to be entertained by mom all of the time. I’ve found myself falling into the trap of letting her have way too much screen time just to get some relief here and there. Don’t get me wrong I love having dance parties, singing songs with her, painting, etc. We do bedtime stories and go to the park, but I’m feeling a shift of needing to let her alone more. This article was a very nice reinforcement that I’m not a mean mommy for saying “go play”.

sisca 1 year ago

It’s very tempting…but at bedtime,won’t they lose valuable sleep? Did it affect their health?
Thank you

Hallie 1 year ago

Well I agree with the person above. It’s ok to do as long as you find a good balance to where your not neglecting them but they are independent and stuff. My parents couldn’t find that balance and it really screwed my family up! My older sister was neglected & fell into depression cause of it , she struggles with abandonment and depression a lot cause of it . My other sibling , Matt (older brother) started acting out when he was 15 to get my parents attention. He got into drugs, drinking & self harm to get attention. I myself have not talked to my parents in 4 yrs since I moved out because I have a lot of resentment towards them because they raised use that way. The only child it didn’t damage was the baby of the family , because they showed her a little more attention then the rest of use . This tore my family apart! It’s great when there little but when there teens they often get depressed. If u can find a perfect balance go right ahead but please be careful & make sure you are not neglecting your kids, it could tare your family apart. But if u can find the balance go 4 it. Good luck ever buddy!:)

Haily 1 year ago

I’m 17 and me & my 4 siblings where raised this way , it’s a great thing to do it teachs kids how to be independent & they learn how to do stuff in there own & how to end arguments in there own. How ever make sure your not totally ignoring them most of the time it was a great way to grow up but if a parents ignores there kids to much it can cause a lot of issues , such as depression , self harm , abandonment issues & even a broken family or kids refuse to talk to there parents or acting out to get there parents attention. Ignoring them a little is ok it teache’s them independence but totally ignore them is neglect & can cause a lot of issues. You just have to find that perfect balance.

Ems 2 years ago

I love this pos but unfortunately I feel like it is too late for me. I have three kids (5,3 and 1) The one year old is awesome, amuses himself and unless he wants something I honestly barely see him. He has been accidentally “ignored” I guess, I’ve just been too busy with the other two that he has just learnt to occupy himself. The other two are a whole other story, really good kids but they just demand my attention non stop. I just don’t know how to get them to play independently without being a total biatch about it. Usually they ask and ask and ask me to play and I just end up loosing my shit at them. I’ve tried a gentle approach where I say I’m sitting here for 10 minutes if you leave me alone for that time then I will come play but they still don’t play they just bug me or hover around me asking if 10 minutes is up.
For my husband they play like a dream, he is never asked to play and they manage to sort it all out for themselves cause they know he won’t stop what he’s dong to go to them.
So any ideas for how I stop being a helicopter mum and get to be an independent play encourager?

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Molly 3 years ago

I lived 18 years of my life with parents who made a master at the art of ignoring us. Yeah, i think there are terms not really well defined here.

There is a fine line dividing neglect from providing personal space wich i think the article is about. Using the term properly, is not ignoring but respecting personal space and giving freedom to the children, wich i think is not very challenging thing to do for any parent, isnt it?.

On the other hand, we have the parents who intentionally are ignoring their children for the wrong reasons.
For instance, If im ignoring my children because I dont care enough to get involved in their lifes, that goes along with the fact that is more important having time for my own instead, plus i feel good about my selfish ass, because by doing this im actually a “good parent” and my children will turn out strong and independent. Wooohoo!! what a recipe for success, how come nobody thought of that before?!..

say, kids are smarter than you think. If you don´t like your children and feel bothered by them, they will know, they will feel the lack of contact and love at some point. You will become the indiferent parent with the magazine and the coffee who gives a damn. There are no such thing as an easy parenting, the one you hope can be done from a chair and a remote control “most of the time”. The love a parent must give goes with the involvement, with the bond you are able to create and the security given to your children that you truly care about them. You are telling your children how much you love them only by being there, available to listening their “silly” stories, to help and giving advice and guidance when they turn to you.

Remember, ignoring your children is only one end of the rope, at the other end, they will ignore you and let you solve your issues by yourself when older. They will know from your teachings, that you are strong and independent enough to care for yourself in the golden years, is good for you too!!.

Sam 3 years ago

Shut up pinki, you are obviously unable to grasp the meaning of the blogs. The world is full of parents cramming activities into their kids lives. We are all just explaining that this is unnecessary to the contrary not healthy or productive to our children. We are not talking 24 hour ignoring, just during play we step back and let them ( within reason) to get on with it, you don’t have kids, right?

Sam 3 years ago

Thank god there are normal, sensible parents out there who know that being a good parent does not equate to policing our children 24-7 and interfering in every little thing that they do. I adore my four kids but I have always encouraged them to play alone. Sometimes I stand just a little way away from them to listen to them lost in their own make believe world. It’s so special, when I was little my mum used to ignore me very well! Hours would pass and I would be blissfully unaware and totally immersed in my play ( I was a sindy doll fan). Leave your kids alone, any doubters just do it, providing they’re in a safe environment just step back and let ’em play!!!

Pinki 3 years ago

Finally Madge, one real woman, who said it like it is! Why should all these weirdo women reproduce anyways, if they only have to feel good by being cruel to babies. That is really what they are doing “even the compassion of the wicked is cruel” said a famous bearded guy, a long time ago…

streetangel 3 years ago

I just have a ? What do u do when u have a 5 year who is autistic ?? He get pretty loud when playing by himself throwing toys and he is kinda destructive breaking toys his bed frame the curtains …. Should I ignore that I’m honestly asking I’m at a lose with him sometimes ……but his brother does pretty well on this method but last time I caught him climbing out the window he is 3 and is on the second floor omg ….these kids give me heart attacks lol

Deitra Pawley 3 years ago

My great niece who will be three next month doesn’t know how to play by herself, my sister her grandma set up a corner for her, but when she comes over she constantly needs someone to play with her, whether it’s me, her grandma, grandpa, mom or Dad, her parents also just had their second child, so they can’t always play with her.Sometimes I wish my sister would encourage her to play alone instead of always having to have someone to play with because she’s over here 3 days a week (soon to be five ) .

Veronica 3 years ago

I totally believe this too. Can I ask though how someone might accomplish this with a single child? My daughter is always coming to me wanting to show me this or that and never just “plays”. I want her to be able to “play” when we visit instead of constantly wanting the adults attention because she doesn’t know how to play with other children. She would rather play with adults.

My son is 6 mths and I know things will get better for her when she’s older when they can play together, but he’s not exactly “very fun” right now.

Jenny Kusters 3 years ago

Thank you!!!
I read this, and put it into practice a week ago with my 2.5 and 1.2 year olds. They are already getting so much out of it!! I really think it’s amping up the learning curve for both of them on so many levels. It was hard to establish, but doable if you try each day!

Tim Jordan 3 years ago

I have this friend who lives in Mt Shasta, CA

Whenever his daughter cries all he does is be there for her.

he never says don’t cry. He says by just letting her cry and let her get that out they learn to become ok with their emotions. So never shun crying, even if they fall down and hurt themselves, just let them cry and hold them.

btw ty for the post.

Kittykisses 3 years ago

I did this the other day not on purpose, but it worked and I WILL do it again. The kids played with toys, all 3 of them for a few hours. I only had to shout once to not tease your sister as my middle child is a boy with a older and younger sister. But they did well. I will be doing it plenty more times to come. I grew up playing with my siblings, or outside. Kids nowadays are stuck on technology or being up there parent’s arses they don’t know how to be kids,lol
Thanks Scary mommy!! Now I know i am not the only person who does this.

laur 4 years ago

i always ignore my kids when they are off playing… that being said you shouldnt ingore children that still dont know not to get in to certain items… my 6 yr olds arent gonna cut each others hair off but my 3 yr old ya he will. lol

    laur 4 years ago

    and if you cant laugh about what ever your kids get into when your not watching them then you probably shouldnt ignore them

josjos 4 years ago

I have just recently discovered your book and blog! Love this post! My daughter is only 13 months, and everyone compliments that she plays so good by herself and is very social! It is because we don’t cater to her every need for attention! She gets all of the necessities, and we play together often, but she does amazing on her own and I’m confident we are raising a daughter that can figure things out on her own and not need attention 24/7. Love the blog, I’m hooked!

Julie K 4 years ago

OMGoodness! Just last night, both my husband and I were getting tired of our 3 year old son’s whining. We put him in his very child-proofed room with his 4000+ toys and went into our room (about 15′ away) to watch t.v. About 1/2 hour later of peace, I asked darling hubby, “Did you put E to bed?” He said, “No, I thought you did it.” We walked into his room and found him very happily (and non-whiningly) playing with his toys and reading books. He is our youngest of 4 and although we generally don’t forget about our children this way, we have found so many times that ignoring them is a great lesson in independence. If they are safe, comfortable, and well-fed, there is no reason that they can’t be alone to play for a little while. And if one of them is clever enough to get a chair to the kitchen counter and eat strawberry Quik with a spoon while I’m upstairs folding a load of laundry, well, good for them. I have a hand vac.

zumpie 4 years ago

I was raised to be able to entertain myself and have done so with my daughter. We generally don’t get nearly as restless or desperate for “something to do” as my husband does. We do spend a fair amount of time together, but more because we really enjoy one another’s company.

I actually DO permit TV, video games and computers—and my daughter’s still creative (though a holy terror according to others). I’m a big fan of not hovering, letting kids problem solve on thier own, though.

When elementary school aged, she’d have friends over for play dates and inevitably, disagreements about what to do would arise. Also invariably, her friends would come and find me, whining that A wanted to play X, while B wanted to play Y (with the expectation that I’d intervene and take their side). My response was always, “okay, if you can’t work it out, I guess I’ll just call your mom to come get you, now.”

Invariably, the kid was fully SHOCKED by my response (and frequently this was the same kid, pulling the same routine), but also went back and resolved their issue. I asked my daughter what SHE thought about all this. She answered with, “it’s sooooo babyish when they do that. I keep telling them not to bother you, but they won’t listen.”

Laura 4 years ago

Brilliant! I have three kids, oldest is 16, youngest is a 2.5 year old nightmare. I was single when I had my oldest daughter, and very young. She was so well behaved and had a great imagination. I have been trying to fugure out what I did so differently with her. You hit the nail on the head! I have been paying WAY too much attention to my little ones! I will begin working on this immediately!

Tawny 4 years ago

Thank you *scarymommy* I dont feel as bad for how we raise our girls. We relate to most the things I have read from you so glad to know we aren’t alone.. You make me laugh thanx!!

Brandy 4 years ago

Thank you for articulating this so well; I actual got to smile and breathe a bit. I’m guilty of reading too much and not listening to what my mommy instincts tell me, so up until recently, I was worried sick that when I wasn’t involved with every moment of my kids’ activities, they would grow up with trust issues and not be able to depend on me. Being that I do have to fix meals and occasionally shower, I got the pleasure of previewing my imagined future of my children every stinkin’ time, with them lonely because mom was so selfish that she wanted to pee without an audience. While I still feel that infants do still need a lot of attention and don’t feel right leaving them in a playpen unattended for extended periods of time, I think I missed the memo that my kids, 4 and 22 months, can walk, run, yell, fight, and play together, regardless of my attendance. I still enjoy playing with them, but they aren’t infants anymore, and fostering an attitude of independence while realizing that the ol’ safety net Mom is nearby will be good for us all. If I could just stop feeling guilty about everything all the time!

Lm Lmc 4 years ago

I have been doing this… all along over my 20+ yrs of parenting. I just did not know this was a “Skill”. As I read your blog, I remember all those times I heard fighting between my two girls and one boy. I know this works because my children are well adjusted, love each other more than they love themselves, they call on each other, and they are honestly HAPPY. I ignore them when I am cooking because I am in a zone. I ignore them when my fav TV show is on, just because I need an escape. It’s great to know “I AM NOT ALONE!” And more often than not, I am realising that my husband has become a child w large temper tantrums when my plans aren’t his. When I need to leave he is the last out of the house; when he needs to be out the door he is the first as he taps on the steering wheel like we are tying him down. Sometimes I would love to tell my monster-in-law: “don’t tell me how to raise my children, I’m still raising one of yours.”

Jessica Brown 5 years ago

SO true. I have 4 kids and the more you hover over them, the more clingy and dependent they get, it seems. No, it’s not about truly ignoring them–you’re always ready to respond if the screaming or crying hit “that” timbre where you know it’s serious. But by not being there every tiny second, they learn to be independent, to solve their own problems, and to bond with each other. My kids aren’t perfect, but they’re best friends, and they can play together like no one else. They don’t need tv or the computer all the time; they don’t need expensive toys. But they do need each other. And that’s just frickin’ awesome. Glad to know you discovered that little secret, too!

Bekah 5 years ago

In my opinion, paying constant attention to your kids is likely to be far more harmful than ignoring them sometimes, as they will be ignored a lot in the real world and they need to be prepared for it, not given a nasty shock when they suddenly discover that they aren’t the centre of the entire universe…

Well said Scary Mommy, and I have to say I am glad I am not the only one with a self-deprecating sense of humour. There is no better way to handle the stresses of life than to laugh at them!

“Mummy is only naughty when she stops me from being naughty, and Mummy is naughty a lot”

Mommy Needs a Xanax 5 years ago

This is old school common sense stuff that everyone knew before the “experts” came along and tried to make parenting seem complicated. I’m reading a book right now by John Rosemond that suggests the very thing you say here, and more, and it has been very liberating to get back to the realization that my kids don’t need me to be in the floor playing with them constantly to know that I love them and value time with them. This is something I already knew, but questioned it because the “experts” made me feel like I had to be constantly DOING something with my kids.


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