Q: My two-year-old son is always climbing on the table. I have told him repeatedly not to, I have punished him, I have used a reward system, but nothing is helping! Is there anything I can do to get him to stop?
A: This is a classic example of negative attention. Children crave attention of any kind, and the negative is often even more appealing than the positive. Sometimes what makes it appealing is the same as what makes a toy truck with lights and sirens that go on at the push of a button exciting. To a child, Mommy (and/or Daddy) is a fun toy to play with, because when he presses her buttons, there is an entertaining show of yelling, gesticulating, maybe a creative attempt at punishment, and all kinds of facial expressions!
Therefore, negative attention given to a behavior will feed the behavior, and keep the child repeating it to receive his anticipated “reward” of a reaction.
There are two ways to stop encouraging negative behavior. One is by passively ignoring it, and the other is by actively ignoring it.
An example of passive ignoring would be the case of a four-year-old who never wanted to go home after playing by a friend. His mother was going out of her mind, as what should have been a three-minute walk home was taking forty-five. She had tried not letting him go to friends, but then had to deal with his retaliating mischief every day. At her wit’s end, she finally agreed to try the advice she was given, which was to park herself on a bench on the way home and just relax, paying no attention to her son’s tantruming. He lay there on the ground kicking and screaming, while she just calmly read a magazine she had brought along. After ten minutes, the boy stood up and said, “Mommy, why aren’t we going home?” to which she replied, “Oh, you’re ready to go? Okay, let’s go!” And that was that. She has not had any of the old trouble since.
An example of active ignoring would be when a child (usually a boy) is banging on the table, annoying everyone. The smart parent will join along, banging on the table and singing to the beat! This takes away any negative attention, showing the child that you are clearly not bothered or annoyed. When the song ends, so does the banging.
So, to apply this to your situation; you can just look away, getting busy with something else and not paying attention to your son on the table. Or, you can give him a big grin and ask him if he’s having fun! Does he want to hold your hands and jump off the table? Yes? One, two, three, jump! And again! Now, one more time, and then all done, okay? And off he’ll go to play.