Ok, hands up those of you who didn’t think about chocolate cake after reading that title?

Did you put your hand up…? Liar.

Often when we hear a command, our brains will ignore the don’t, and focus on what it is we’re being asked not to do…. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

I know, the picture doesn’t make it easy..!

I remember reading somewhere ages ago that this was why the old ‘Don’t drink and drive’ signs were changed, as people seeing the sign were thinking ‘Oh I fancy a drink,’ as it put the thought into their heads. However, the fact that out brains can mute the ‘don’t’ was never more apparent to me than when I gave birth and the midwife said (I later realised) “Don’t push.” Luckily, I checked. “Push?” I asked, ready to go. “NO!” the midwife, Mr B and my sister all shouted. That was pretty important. Had she said ‘Hold on,” or “wait” instead, there would have been no confusion.

So, if it’s so easy for us as adults to ignore the ‘don’t,’ what about our kids? The other day Mr B, Mushroom and I were out for dinner. Mushroom kept climbing up on his seat. “Don’t put your feet on the chairs,” Mr B and I were saying repeatedly, while Mushroom happily ignored us, reaching out for the candle burning in the centre of the table. As I saw the danger signs, I remembered. “Mushroom, that candle is hot! Stay back to stay safe.” He shrank back. “Will it hurt me a lot?” I nodded. “Yes. Oh, and Mushroom? Sit nicely on your bottom please.” No more feet on seats. I need to remember to drop the ‘don’t’ more often.

Try dropping the ‘Don’t

Here are some suggested substitutions:

For: Don’t run into the road!

Try: Walk on the pavement next to me, please

For: Don’t touch the oven!

Try: The oven is very hot, so stay a safe distance away, ok?

For: Stop whining!

Try: Could you talk more clearly please? Then I can understand you better (the answer can still be ‘No!’)

For: Stop fidgeting!

Try: Shall we go to the park? (Sometimes they just have to move!)

For: Don’t be rude/use bad words (It’s a phase! I hope…)

Try: Talk nicely please/what could you say instead of that word? (Mushroom likes ‘Oh my goodness,’ which started as a result of him ‘trying out’ the word ‘shit!’ when he’s annoyed. Can’t think where he heard that…)

For: Stop hitting!

Try: Be gentle

And I’m sure you can come up with (or already use) more that are much more relevant to you.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect (really. It even says so in my tagline). I say “don’t…” often enough myself, especially when I’m under stress, even though I know it’s not usually going to be effective (although “don’t do that” can sometimes work as the words emphasise the ‘don’t’ rather than whatever it is he’s doing). However, when I am more mindful of the words I use, I find that he responds much better.

How often do you say ‘don’t’? And how effective do you find it?