We need our children to do things. It’s not about being controlling or overtly forceful. If the household is to run smoothly, if they are to get to daycare or school, to extracurricular activities or simply to a friend’s place, they need to be guided to do certain things. Our children need to learn what is acceptable behaviour and how to act in accordance with the values and beliefs we are raising them with. For all of this, we need to tell them how to act, what to say and do and how to be.
Often this goes smoothly. But what about in those moments when our child does exactly what we’ve asked them not to do? You know those moments when you say “Don’t jump on the couch” and your child just goes and jumps straight on the couch! So frustrating!
A huge part of our role as a parent is communicating with our child. So how can we get our child to stop doing exactly what we’ve asked them not to do? It is possible! First, we must understand how the brain processes information.
For example, let’s say you want your child to stop jumping on the couch and you say “don’t jump on the couch”. In order for them to understand what you have just said, they have to think of jumping on the couch. It’s the only way they can understand the words you have just said and how they have formed a sentence and request.
It’s just like if I said to you, “don’t think of a green tree”, instantly you think of a green tree so that you can make sense of what I’ve just said to you.
Now we know that when children have a picture of something in their head they gravitate towards it. It’s like tunnel vision.
When you say “don’t jump on the couch”, you create this picture of jumping on the couch within their mind as their brain interprets the words you’ve said. Then, because children lack self-control because they are children, they move towards this picture and go and jump on the couch. They’ve done exactly what you didn’t want them to do!
After that, you end up feeling frustrated. You have to keep repeating yourself, they keep doing it, you end up yelling and everyone ends up in a bit of a mess! All very common and happens in every family.
How can we stop this? How do we get our children to do what we need them to do without doing what we don’t want them to do?
The first thing is we stop using the word ‘don’t’. As part of the role of a parent, we need to be directing our child about what they can and can’t do. So, instead of saying “don’t jump on the couch” a more effective alternative is to say “go jump on the trampoline“. When we say this we create a picture in our child’s mind of what we want them to do, therefore, they are more likely to move towards that.
How should you speak if you do actually need to say ‘don’t’?
We need to keep our kids safe and healthy and let’s say that you don’t want your child to run on the road (completely appropriate!). Well, you say “don’t run on the road” and then you follow it with what you do want them to do. For example, you could say “don’t run on the road, please stay on the grass next to me.” and then hold their hand or give them something to do. You reinforce the unacceptable behaviour (running on the road) and redirect them to what you want them to do.
Changing the way that we talk to our children really does make a huge impact. After having read this article you will find yourself saying “don’t” quite often and then you’ll be picking it up and go “oh I shouldn’t have said ‘don’t'”, but the thing is it’s all about awareness. The more you practice this, and the more you get in habit of doing it, the greater results you will feel and you will see. You’ll be happier, not repeating yourself as often, your kids won’t feel like you’re nagging all the time and everyone is enjoying family life more. Win-win!
If this makes sense to you or has brought on a lightbulb moment, why not check out my Communicating With Children Program? This language tool and many more are discussed and applied to the different age groups. It’s an online program with videos and downloads that you can access over and over again as a complete and long-term resource for helping to get your children to listen to you as they grow up.
If you try this with your kids I’d love to know how it goes. Come over and let me know on Facebook or comment below.