“If you’re good today….”
“Try to do your best.”
“Don’t fight with your brother.” “Don’t drop the ball.” “Don’t run across the road!”
“You’re always the one to start the rows in this house.”
“You never want to do your homework.”
“You’re always the last to get ready.”
“You’re the one who always makes us late.”
Which of the above sentences sound familiar in your household? Can you see what’s wrong with them? How would you feel if they were said to you?
The use of language in the above statements actually has the opposite effect of what we want to achieve. These are what we call “negative commands” and include “toxic” words such as “don’t”, “try”, “if “ and “never”.
We generally gravitate to using negative commands in our everyday lives, especially with our children. But, actually, our brains are programmed that they can’t process negative commands. If we are given a negative command, our brain actually has to visualise the image and then tell itself not to do it.
A good example is if two children are climbing a tree and a gust of wind threatens to blow them off. One parent calls to Child 1: “Hold on tight.” The other parent calls to Child 2: “Don’t fall.”
Result: Child 1’s brain instantly has an image of him holding on tightly, and so remains safely in the tree. Child 2, however, falls. Child 2 has to visualise falling, then try to tell the brain not do what it just pictured!
Therefore using the word “don’t” actually had the opposite effect of what Parent 2 was trying to achieve.
Below is a more detailed explanation of how to avoid toxic words, and use language more effectively on your children to gain better results.
In this sentence, you are actually embedding into the child’s brain that they are a bold person. If a child is repeatedly told they are bold, then this becomes embedded into their brains. They end up believing they are inherently bold. Resultantly, how will they behave? Bold!
Think of it from an adult’s point of view. If someone tells you you’re useless, how do you feel?
A better way to phrase it would be, “That’s a bold thing to do.” You are separating the child from the behaviour, yet still making them aware that what they did was wrong.
With this statement, you are presupposing the child may not be good today. In a way, you have already excused the child’s bad behaviour by implying doubt that they will be good and/or can behave. If you doubt they can be good, how is that encouraging them to behave?
Rephrase it as, “When you’re good today” (embedded positive image). This immediately creates a positive picture of behaviour. The child now has an image of them being good and is more likely to act upon this belief.
In this case, you are giving your child permission to fail. Make it a command, “Do your best”. Again, the image that will be created in the child’s mind is of them doing their best.
With this statement, we are focusing on the opposite of what we want to achieve. As I mentioned above, with these statements the child has to visualise what you don’t want them to do, and then reverse that image. Sounds like hard work, doesn’t it?
Reframe your statements: “Stay on the footpath”, “Hold onto the ball”, “Be kind to your brother/sister"
In these examples, you are drawing attention to things that didn’t actually happen and, in a way, implying guilt. Remove them from your vocabulary!
These statements embed negative internal belief systems, and can be harder to shift. If they “always” behave a certain way or can “never” do it right, you are effectively enabling their (bad) behaviour. And once that behaviour becomes cemented in the child's mind, where is the belief and the motivation for them to change it?
Don’t Try If
Avoid embedding “toxic beliefs”:
You’re always You never You’re so
Avoid a focusing negatively on things that didn’t happen:
You should have You could have You would have
Use language carefully to create images of what you want your child to achieve:
“You’ll find you’re great at sitting down to start your homework”, “We’ll all be ready for school together today”,
“When you're good today”, “Do your best”.
With careful use of words and language, you can create positive pictures and empowering beliefs in your children. And the outcome will be amazing!