“Don’t touch that!”
“I said stop running!!!”
Sound familiar? How many times have you caught yourself telling your child(ren) over and over (and over and over…) to “stop” something? Or repeatedly saying “don’t” or “no?” How frustrating! Those directions are often referred to as “negative” – not because they’re “bad,” but because they tell your child what NOT to do. Many parents can benefit from switching their directions to include what the child should do instead.
What’s your response when someone says “don’t look!” The majority of people look! Your child can react the same way! If you keep telling them to “stop touching the phone,” they are repeatedly going to hear the word “phone.” Guess what they’re going to think about? The phone! If you instead tell them to go play outside, you’ve interrupted their thought about the phone and have gotten them to think about another activity.
Depending on the age of your child, their problem-solving skills likely aren’t fully developed yet. They can have a difficult time identifying what they should do if they are only told what not to do. Imagine you’re on the phone and your kiddo keeps interrupting and trying to get your attention. If you keep saying “stop” and “no” and “don’t,” your child may stop for a short (sometimes very short!) amount of time, but will probably start interrupting you again. If, instead of negative directions, you tell your child to go color while they wait for you to get off the phone, they’re more likely to actually leave you alone for longer than 15 seconds and go color. You’ve given them a positive direction by telling them what you’d like them to do.
It may take some practice, but giving a positive direction doesn’t take much more time and effort than giving a negative direction. When you see your child doing something and you want them to stop, just think about what you’d like them to do instead. Instead of “stop running,” try “please walk.” Instead of “don’t touch your brother’s toys,” try “play with your own toys.”
It can also sometimes be helpful to give your child a choice. If, while on the phone, you say, “go color or do your Frozen puzzle until I’m off the phone,” you’ve given your kid a choice. This is helpful for a few reasons. It helps them develop decision-making skills, and also gives them two ideas in case they decide they really don’t want to color today; you’re less likely to be met with “I don’t want to color!” because they were also given the option of doing their puzzle.