How to Ignore Your Kids’ Bad Behavior and Yet Be Fully Present for Them

Very true. But Ockwell-Smith, who has four children herself, is a solemn teacher, and there’s something a little exhausting about the methods proposed in this book. It’s never enough to praise a good job; what is it about that job that’s good? Ockwell-Smith likes specificity, and she has many strongly held ideas about cutting corners. For example, she believes distracting a little kid is a bad discipline tool, because it “prevents children from feeling, expressing and, therefore, managing emotions. … You prevent them from discovering that emotions are O.K.” That sounds good, but I am not going to let my kid explore his emotional landscape in the middle of a Wal-Mart, over my refusal to buy the Fisher-Price Power Wheels. I am going to give him a couple of M&M’s and get the hell out of there.

The subtitle of IGNORE IT! (TarcherPerigee, paper, $16) is “How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction,” or, when translated into my vernacular, “How Locking Yourself in Your Room With a Vodka Gimlet and Reruns of Comey’s Testimony Can Make You a Better Parent.” The family therapist Catherine Pearlman is not suggesting we la-la-la our way through all behavioral issues: If your child is engaging in unsafe or injurious behaviors, it’s time to act. But she believes that some of the most annoying kid problems can be snuffed out once a parent acknowledges one of the unwritten rules of parenting: To a child, there is no such thing as “bad” attention. Screaming and shouting from a parent is better than no attention at all.

She discusses the scourge of helicopter parenting, and how we have essentially turned our kids into a nation of tiny Willy Lomans, to whom Attention Must Be Paid. To extinguish irritating behavior and encourage the good stuff, Pearlman suggests parents look at their children the way B. F. Skinner looked at pigeons, using his theory that “what happened immediately…

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