Nixing Negativity Part 1: Ditching the “Don’t”
Don’t be late.
Don’t run in the house!
Don’t tease your sister.
Don’t chew with your mouth open.
If you were to keep track, how many times a day would you find yourself uttering the dreaded four-letter word of childhood: don’t?
While our motives are good, our no don’t, and other negative commands cause more problems than they solve. In fact, they play a big role in how our kids perceive themselves and in the amount of cooperation they give us.
Switching up the words we use, however, can make our action match our intention.
Let’s start by understanding 3 reasons why “don’t” often doesn’t work:
- “No” and “don’t” get discouraging, fast. Imagine having someone in your life – a boss or a spouse, for example – who began the majority of their communication with you using those words.
It wouldn’t take long to feel downright crummy about yourself, and our kids are no exception. It goes without saying that we want our kids to have a positive self-image, and we need to make sure our language reflects that.
- Negative commands are confusing. I facilitate an in-class exercise with parents in which I give moms and dads a series of “don’t” commands: “Don’t sit down, don’t look at me, don’t stand still, don’t look at your neighbor,” and so
The look on their faces is priceless: they take on a “deer in the headlights” expression as they try to process what they should and should not do.
Our children face the same problem.
Negative commands, such as “don’t” and “no” require a double mental process: our kids first must understand what not to do, and then figure out what they’re supposed to do instead.
We unknowingly make things more confusing and reduce the likelihood of actually getting their cooperation.
- It reinforces the negative behavior. If I were to say to you “don’t touch your face,” one of the first things you’ll think to do is, ironically, to touch your face.
Our children are again hardwired the same way. Our well intentioned “don’t bother your brother while he’s studying” instead inspires our kids to keep their sibling from completing his homework.
It will take some work, but make it your mission to limit the “DON’T” in your household. You’ll be surprised at how much the shift will change the dynamics in your home!
Read Part 2 of this series to learn four ways to incorporate more DO into your daily routine.
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