Don’t touch that!
Don’t spill your drink.
Don’t take off your hat.
Don’t throw the ball in the house.
Don’t forget to put your school bag away.
This is what some children hear from their parents all day.
Imagine how you’d feel if your partner, or neighbour or friend gave you a long list of don’ts everyday – it would put a huge strain on the relationship. If you’d have trouble coping with that as an adult, then why would we do it to our children?
We learn by someone showing or telling us HOW to do something, rather than by saying don’t do it. We need to tell children what we want them TO DO rather than what not to do.
In the above examples, you can change them around into a positive statement of what they need to do, such as:
Play with this instead – let me show you….
Drink slowly Lizzy.
Hats on in the sun Mary.
Throwing balls is for outside – let’s take them out now.
Remember where we hang our bags?
In all these examples, there is specific information for a young child to follow. It’s a much more constructive way of teaching children the best or most appropriate way to do something.
Another important consideration in our choice of words, is the word ‘don’t’ itself. If I said to you now: “Don’t think of a red balloon” – what have you immediately got a picture of? – a red balloon! The reality is our brains don’t process ‘don’t’ well. We need to first think of the object – red balloon- and then our brain tells us to not think of it, but it’s too late, we already have! It’s as if our brain doesn’t actually hear the word ‘don’t’ but just the rest of the sentence.
A good example here is when we say to our partner as they leave the house: “Don’t forget to buy some milk today”. Many times they forget – because, their brain didn’t register the word ‘don’t, so what they actually heard was: “Don’t forget the milk”, which is exactly what they did… they forgot the milk.
Another example is when you say to a child: “Don’t jump on the bed” and they continue to do so. Their brain is hearing: “Don’t jump on the bed” and they continue to jump, and are quite surprised when you get cranky with them!
A much better way is to be specific with what you DO want. To you partner say: ‘Remember the milk tonight.” And to your child you might say: “Beds are for sleeping on. If you want to jump let’s go outside and jump on the trampoline. If you include yourself in the solution – jumping outside – they are more likely to want to do it. Children like and desire our attention and company.
Think back to something you learnt HOW to do recently….. it might be to make a white sauce, to prune your fruit trees or to speak French. Imagine if every time you made an error, or went to prune the tree in the wrong place, or didn’t say the word correctly – if someone said to you: “Don’t do that!” but then, they didn’t actually tell you WHAT or HOW to do it better – you’d be stuck not knowing!
So, be a DO parent and teach your children what you DO want them to do – show them how, model it and acknowledge their efforts in learning.
Happy ‘DO’ parenting!