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October 16, 2023

Understanding Ignoring and Refusal

Exploring opportunities for flexible support and strategies to help individuals feel in control.



It can be hard when someone refuses to do as we’ve asked, particularly when we feel under pressure, tired, or frustrated. This can often lead to a power struggle and an escalation in behaviours as we seek to control the situation.



However, thinking about why the individual is saying no or ignoring us can help us understand their actions – there’s a reason behind every behaviour, after all. Focusing on their emotions and considering prior experiences can help us empathise and find a positive way forward.


Think about why they’re refusing


When we simply expect compliance, we can miss an opportunity to understand the needs that drive behaviours. Perhaps there’s a physical reason behind it, such as they feel tired, hungry, or thirsty. Or could they be enjoying what they’re currently doing and struggle to stop before it’s finished?


Alternatively, it could be that they don’t understand why we’re giving an instruction. We feel this way when we’re told to do something and we don’t understand the purpose of it, and it’s the same for the individuals in our care. Explaining the ‘why’ of what we’re asking them to do gives a reason and a purpose to the request:

  • The table needs to be clear because dinner will be ready in 5 minutes.
  • We need to stop reading because the bell is about to go for break.
  • Let’s finish this now so you can take your medication.

An individual may also ignore or refuse to follow an instruction because they are finding something difficult. For example, a child or young person in a school setting may be finding work challenging. Refusing to do it could be a sign they’re struggling, and might present an opportunity for us to provide support.

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