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One of the first conversations that I have with almost every family is to make this ONE SIMPLE SWITCH to the way that YOU talk, in order to IMPROVE YOUR CHILD’s BEHAVIOR, and increase the likelihood that they will follow directions.

Tell them what TO DO, versus what NOT to do!

Let me give you a few examples, and then I will explain why this works:

  • You’re in the grocery store and letting your child walk beside you. They start to run…you holler, “Stop running!”
  • Your little ones are playing together on the floor with cars. One of the boys hits the other one. He wants to use the car that the other child has. You firmly say, “No hitting!” bigstock-Talking-1514719
  • Your toddler continues to climb and hang on the baby gate, and you are constantly saying, “Quit climbing the gate!” to no avail!

Think about this…we, as adults, are readers. I know…you’re thinking, “What in the world does reading have to do with hitting your brother?” but stay with me!

When someone gives us a direction…for example, “pass the salt”, we can see the words” PASS THE SALT” in our minds. We also visualize that action occurring…the salt being passed. Toddlers CANNOT READ. They visualize exactly what you say. So, if you say, “Stop running”, they see someone…doing what? RUNNING! Terms like “No”, “Not”, “Stop”, “Don’t”, and “Quit” are all very VAGUE, and they are not able to be VISUALIZED in to an action or noun. Try it! Try “seeing in your mind” the word “don’t”…there’s NOTHING TO SEE! So, you see the word itself!

Back to toddlers…if we say, “Don’t hit”, and your child CANNOT “see” the word “don’t” as they process the direction, then WHAT DO THEY VISUALIZE IN THEIR MIND? Yup! You got it! HITTING! So, what are they going to do?? HIT!

Does that make sense? I hope so! So, what can WE do? We can tell them WHAT TO DO, instead of what NOT to do. Try this…

  • Instead of “Stop running”, we say “WALK!” …they can visualize the walking, so the likelihood that they will walk is much higher!
  • Instead of “No hitting”, we say “gentle touch” or we can model “car please!” (and of course, have them check on the child that they hit).
  • Instead of “quit climbing the gate!” (at which point I’m probably pulling my hair out!), you say, “Feet on the FLOOR!” They can visualize that…feet and floor! Yes!

Try this at home. You can even make a game of it with your spouse or significant other…try “catching” each other and see how many times you actually tell them what NOT to do, versus what TO DO. What are some other examples you can think of?

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