Sunday, February 7, 2010


“Stop whining!”
“No more fighting!”
“Don’t spill your milk!”

Pretty typical parent-ese, right?  But think about it…. When you are saying “Stop whining!” you are putting the emphasis on WHINING.  The main focus in the command, “No more fighting!” is the very child-intriguing concept of “FIGHTING.” And,  what toddler could resist the great idea to “SPILL YOUR MILK,” conveniently forgetting to listen to the “Don’t” that preceded it in the sentence?

In other words, have you noticed that children usually respond to these “don’ts” by doing exactly what you don’t want them to do?  How could they help it when you brought those interesting activities to their attention so effectively?  They might not have even thought of them until you brought them up! Great ideas!

Its not easy to figure out how to avoid these sentences and commands that invite bad behavior.  But I was thinking… shoot a free throw, you have to keep your eye on the rim.  To hit a baseball, you keep your eye on the ball. When you shoot a bow and arrow, you keep your eye glued to the target,  and most certainly do NOT let your eye wander to all the places you do not want the arrow to end up. And, to help your child reach a goal of appropriate or helpful behavior, you need to keep your eye on the goal, and stop paying attention to (and  talking about) the old behavior that you’re trying to decrease.

When you focus on the negative, you are assuring that you will only achieve negative results. But when you turn your attention instead to your goal, the entire focus and atmosphere changes to one of productivity, growth, and cooperation. 

“I can understand your words better when you use a quiet, clear voice.”

This simple statement is much more effective at helping a child gradually give up a whining habit, because it gives the child as well as the adult a positive behavior target to shoot for: speaking in a quiet, clear voice.

“Let’s work together to figure out ways you can both get what you need.”

This is a positive way to help children begin to replace nonproductive fighting with useful problem-solving.

Thinking and speaking this way takes practice. Face it, we don’t always live in a positive world. The world around us often operates with the focus on the negative. But over time you can learn to use these skills, and you’ll see a very positive result. 

If improving our golf, tennis, or basketball game is worth our time and attention, certainly we can also devote our energy to learning to focus on positive behavior when we speak with our children!

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