We all get frustrated on telling our kids not to do something the first thing they do (or continue to do) is to go and do it!
Storytelling is a great way of helping you with this particular challenge. This particular post is about one aspect of creating a story: The use of language.
Not just any old language, but specifically positive language.
It turns out this is because in order not to do something, our brains have to process the idea of doing it before not doing it.
Don’t scratch your nose in a minute
I bet you thought about scratching your nose. Or if you haven’t you may realise you’ve done it in a minute after you’ve stopped thinking about not doing it.
As adults, we’re (mostly – and I think we all know at least one adult who will always do the opposite of what they’re told to do) able to process that very swiftly and get on with the job of not doing it.
Children on the other hand, aren’t so lucky. Their natural desire to learn and explore (which should totally be encouraged btw) simply filters out the “do not” bit and they quite obediently go and explore whatever it is you’ve asked them not to.
There is a simple trick to getting this right:
Don’t say “don’t do abc”. Do say “do do xyz” instead
Instead of telling them “Don’t climb on the furniture” try saying “Let’s stay on the floor”
Instead of “Don’t run into the road” try “Wait for me at the curb”
Instead of “Don’t throw stones” try “can you find any red ones?”
You saw how complicated it is to explain how this works, so just imagine all the extra processing that a brain needs in order to not do something and why children find it so easy to (apparently) misbehave…
Build this positive language into the stories that you tell your children and you’ll be able to deliver very strong lessons and achieve fantastic results from surprisingly short stores.
Painting with my daughter gave me a great example of how, as a parent, my best intentions are not always what she needs.
In this case it was the idea that I had that she might like to paint a house on a blank piece of paper. I was thinking to myself that I wouldn’t try and influence or force her to draw any particular kind of house, instead I would let her draw whatever kind of house she liked. Maybe it’d be a rabbit’s house or her granny’s house or maybe something completely different.
What actually happened was quite a surprise and a fantastic learning opportunity for me.
Of course you could argue that “a house” is perhaps a too open question for a child… Maybe asking what Mr Rabbit’s house looks like would have been better (it isn’t – I’ve tried it). Looking at the reams of drawings and paper that are nothing but different coloured swirls where she’s just gone round and round and round where I’ve not had a hand in helping her direct her imagination, I can’t help but compare them to how much more enjoyment she gets and the (relatively) well shaped art work that she and I have done together where I’ve helped her with an outline of what to do (I’ll add a photo of my favourite piece soon).
It seems that while I might like to think that by keeping out and letting her explore the world in her own way would be good, it actually turns out that a bit of gentle guidance is essential. No wonder our kids (nearly) always turn out like their parents…
There’s a load of stuff on the internet about reward and punishment and in this video I discuss one such technique. I like it and I use it because it works on our more animal level and the wonderful ability of humans to hope.