Do you want your child to follow instructions better? Are you tired of nagging? And do you feel like they do exactly what you have asked them not to do?

First, we need to think about how we speak to children:

‘Don’t whine!’

‘Don’t touch that!’

‘Don’t shout!’

‘Don’t hit your little sister!’

‘Don’t make a mess!’

… You get the picture! We say ‘don’t’ A LOT.

I want you to think about how you would feel if you were being told ‘don’t’ all the time? How dis-encouraging that would be and how it might even invite some misbehaviour. We know that our children give us more of the behaviour we pay attention to, saying ‘don’t’ can indeed encourage them to still do it.

Why do children misbehave?

Children are attention needing. So whatever behaviour succeeds in getting them the attention (albeit negative attention, children don’t mind) that’s what they will resort back to.

It really helps to model the behaviour that we want to see in our children and try and keep this in mind when it comes to discipline – monkey see monkey do! I encourage you to re-frame the don’ts for dos.

If we shout: ‘Don’t shout!’, this is a confusing message because we are not modelling the behaviour ourselves about what it is we expect from them. So, in order to successfully swap don’ts for dos, first, we need to check our timing and our tone. If you feel a ‘don’t….’ about to fall out of your mouth, STOP!

Instead, ask yourself:

  • Is this the right time?
  • Is my child listening to me or are they distracted by something else?
  • Have we got their full attention?
  • Have we made time to connect with them on their level?

We also need to check our tone, as they will mirror the tone we take with them. Similarly we might be tempted to mirror the tone they might have taken with us!

How can we re-frame our language for a more positive response?

If your child is playing with the buttons on your computer and you would usually say, ‘don’t touch that,’ check your timing and your tone and then try and re-frame it as a ‘do’. What CAN they do if they CAN’T do that?

Here we need to tune in to them, and it might sound a little like this: ‘I can see you find Mummy’s computer interesting. I think you like the buttons. Let’s go and find your toys with buttons to play with.’

If you find yourself saying, ‘Don’t make a mess,’ how can you reframe this to a ‘do’? What do you want them to do instead, in order to not make a mess?

By explaining what it is that we want to see, rather than what we don’t want to see, we are teaching children what is expected and we are giving them the skills in which to succeed rather than just picking fault and giving them no support in which to change their behaviour next time.

Instead of ‘Don’t make a mess,’ you could say: ‘I can see you’re having fun with the cushions. I bet it feels fun to throw them around, but I don’t want my special cushions being thrown around like that. Can you throw them back on the sofa please?’

It’s a simple reframe, but one that encourages modelling, allows for connection, learning and more positive behaviour!

Get in touch via my troubleshooting packages if you want more strategies like these in responding to your child’s behaviour, and check out my other bloss articles for more tips on positive parenting and understanding the best ways to engage with your children.