Friday, April 11, 2008

Don't Say Don't

One of my hard and fast rules, that I struggle to keep every day:
Don't say don't.

Try it. Or at least pay attention to how many times you say don't each day.
I bet you'll be shocked.
Your poor kids. You being so negative and all...

Really. Studies have been done - the use of don't is an unsuccessful tool for deterring behaviour. So, why are you still doing it then? Surely it is just because you weren't aware of its inefficiencies.
We respond better to a directive, us mammals. Whether we're a 9-month old child about to put a rock in our mouth, or we're a 5-year-old beagle being told not to jump up, we respond better to being told what TO DO, rather than what NOT TO DO. It is far easier to follow the direction of doing something, rather than not doing something. We are just wired this way.

"T.Rube, don't put that rock in your mouth..."

What do you think T.Rube hears?
I'll tell you what she hears: ".......rock in your mouth" or even "put that rock in your mouth". When the "don't" is coming out of my mouth, T.Rube certainly hasn't even clued in to the fact that I'm talking yet. She's going to miss the "don't." It's inevitable.
So, why not turn it around then?
"T.Rube, put that rock down." or "T.Rube. What've you got there? cool, a rock.. can you show it to me?" or "Take that rock out of your mouth, T.Rube."

Also, don't underestimate the power of suggestion! It is powerful stuff, that power of suggestion. You may give your child ideas that they just plum never thought about before! simply by telling them to "don't" do something.
For example,
"Don't put your fingers in that electrical outlet!"
"Don't go out on the street!"
"Don't spill the milk!"
"Don't fall!!"
"Don't experiment with drugs."
"Don't have sex."
"Don't stay out all night."
(ahhh.... the joys of what we have to look forward to.)
(See. We say "don't" all the time!)

Our ability to visualize and create a picture is what makes this so powerful. So, how you word your phrases is super important.

Particularly as your children reach their rebellious teenage years, telling them to "don't" do something is a sure fire way to its certainty! It's interesting, then, that we've chosen a slogan like "Don't drink and drive." How about "Stay sober and responsible"? How about "See clearly when you drive"? How about "Honour your life and the lives of your friends"? There are a lot more positive ways to say it.

That's what I'm trying to say here. Part of creating a strength-based environment in your home and having a positive and strength-focused relationship with your children (and spouses) is being positive. As I suggested at the beginning, I challenge you to become conscious about how often you say "don't" in the course of a day. It shocked me, when I did it, a number of years ago now.
Repeated use of the word "don't" can only be termed nagging. If you hear yourself and catch yourself constantly telling them to "don't" be doing that, they've probably tuned you out months ago ( dare I say years ago ).
We are so accustomed to seeing what our children do wrong that it isn't easy to notice what they're doing right, and what you want them to do right. Help create a positive visual for them in life by framing all of your statements in a positive manner.

(This doesn't mean that you don't use "No" or "Stop" (which is a directive). Using don't is something else entirely different; it has nothing to do with your ability to establish boundaries and clear expectations, and ensuring your children are safe.)


Magnolia said...

Here! Here!!
I also try to think about how I would approach an adult or someone elses child. Rarely would we speak in a negative tone or say negative things like "don't" to these people.
Great piece!!


Anonymous said...

I like this. I mentioned it to Choirboy and he liked it too. Please remind me of this when Baby M is of the appropriate age. Thankyouverymuch.


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