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Don’t, don’t, don’t…

November 30, 2008

Last night at hypnobirthing class I was telling the couples how important it is to focus on what you want to occur, as opposed to focusing on what you don’t want.  I explained how the subconscious mind does not recognize statements in the negative.  For example, if I told you “don’t think of a pink elephant”, what immediately pops into your mind?  An image of a pink elephant of course.  If you truly do not want to think of such a creature, then you must instead focus on something else.

Most of us easily fall into the trap of thinking about what we do not want in our lives.

“I wish I wasn’t so broke.”

“If only I didn’t have such a crappy boss.”

“I don’t want such a small cramped house.”

“I’m sick of telling my children not to fight all the time.”

Our subconscious hears… I’m broke; I have a crappy boss; My house is cramped; My children fight.  Rather than using our mind to find solutions to these situations, all we are doing with thoughts like this is re-affirming our problems.

Changing this behaviour is more challenging then it would first appear though.  The next morning after class if you were a fly on the wall at my breakfast table this is what you would have heard.

“Ahren don’t throw your food on the floor.”

“Julia don’t interrupt.”

“Ahren don’t take off your bib.”

“Julia stop fooling around.”

“Julia and Ahren stop fighting.”

I’m not exceptionally proud of the above discussion, but I’m willing to guess that I’m not the only one with small children whose mealtime discussion goes something along those lines.  The problem with the above comments is that I’m just pointing out what I don’t want to happen.  Of course all the kids hear is “throw your food on the floor; interrupt; take off your bib; fool around and fight”.  I know that I have a better chance at changing their behaviour if I focus on what I want to occur instead.

“Ahren, food stays on the table.”

“Julia, please wait until I’m finished, then start talking.”

“Ahren, leave your bib on.”

“Julia, eat your food.”

“Ahren and Julia please share the crackers.”

I’m not suggesting that my changing your language everything will suddenly run smoothly in your household.  However I do believe that it gives kids a fight chance to cooperate with you.  After all it’s pretty hard to figure what to do instead unless we tell them.

Even with all that I have learned about how the mind works, it’s still hard to put into practice.  I guess old habits die hard, as they say.  But I’ve made it a priority to pay attention to what I say, and it’s getting better.

So my mission for you, if you are reading and have small children, is for the rest of today, pay attention to what you say to your kids and just notice how often you are telling what you don’t want.  Then tomorrow start fresh and let them know what kind of behaviour you would like to see instead.  Your children will be much more likely to cooperate with you if they know they should be doing.  And as an added bonus, this way of speaking also forces you to reflect and become more clear about your expectations.


ps.  Comment and tell me how it went.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Dana McGunigal permalink
    September 1, 2009 12:02 pm

    I agree that positive language is key to child guidance. Really, when it comes down to it we can’t make anyone do anything, including our children. We can only encourage certain choices by offering thoughtful instructions and consequences. Working in a daycare I often hear co-workers say “don’t run,” when I find “[child’s name], could you please walk” to be much more effective. There’s just something more respectful about it. It definitely takes some time to adjust to what feels like talking backwards. Another challenge I find is to think before responding to a child’s actions. Often we’re so quick to correct a child from doing something that is “against the rules” when really they are causing no harm and they may even learn something very valuable from their experience. So if they thought that running with a glass of juice was a good idea, they may realize that it wasn’t when they have to face the natural consequence of cleaning it up.


    • September 3, 2009 3:25 pm

      Dana, I totally agree. It takes some time and focus to reframe your language. It actually makes you more aware of what kind of behavior you want as well. It’s so easy to say “don’t fool around at the table”… and much harder to define the type of behavior you are looking for. In my case, happy interaction (talking, telling stories) and eating are the behaviors I want at the table during mealtime. And it truly does help the kids when I’m clear about what I want and they are much more likely change their behavior in a positive way.

      And the no part of your comment reminded me about a technique I learned as a teacher. Before you say no to a child’s request, think about why you are saying no. For example, the kids want to play in the basement. You say no because there are areas down there that aren’t safe for them to play. So maybe you can yes with a condition: that they play in the safe area for a certain period of time while you are in the basement with them. A yes with a condition is a lot easier to accept than a flat out no.

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