"No!" is sometimes thought of as a toddler’s favourite word, but often one of the most frequent words uttered by the parent of a toddler is "Don’t!"
It may seem that life with a young child is full of don’ts and other negative words: "Don’t run out of the yard!" "Don’t throw your toys!" "Don’t hit!"
Children need to have limits to keep them safe and to help them learn acceptable behaviours. Telling a child what not to do will enforce those limits for the moment, but it does not give him an understanding of what to do next time.
Wherever possible, try to replace a "don’t" with a "do". Focus on the behaviour you want, not the behaviour you want to avoid. Instead of "Don’t touch the vase", try "Here is a toy for you to play with", and put the vase out of reach. Instead of "Don’t hurt the kitty", say, "Let’s pat the kitty gently like this".
By giving a "do" instead of a "don’t", you have shown your child what the rules are: the vase is not for playing and the kitty must be handled gently. You have given her an alternative, and she still has something to play with and is able to touch the kitty.
As well, by using positive rather than negative words, you are more likely to get co-operation from your child. A child who is told "don’t" may come back with a frustrated "no!"
"Do" statements serve several purposes.
They can be used to help your child understand the rules or limits and what is expected of him. Instead of "Don’t leave your toys on the floor," saying, "Put the toys in the box when you are finished playing" tells him exactly what he needs to do. "Don’t walk with your mouth full" could be "You need to sit at the table until you have eaten all your lunch."
You can also use a "do" statement to redirect your child away from unwanted behaviour. These are the situations where we most likely want to say "don’t!" because we want the child to stop what they are doing right now.
"Don’t rip the pages out of your book!" might be replaced by, "Here is some scrap paper for you to rip. I am going to put your book up so we can read it later." Instead of "Don’t run in the store!" try "Walk with me and help me find the bananas."
Children are learning and discovering new things every day, and they are bound to make mistakes. There are many situations where you need to say "don’t" to your child, but when you can, try to use a "do" instead.
By giving your child a positive alternative to a negative behaviour, you are helping her understand limits and form habits that will continue to develop as she grows.
And hopefully, you will hear a few less "no!"s in response.
Shawna Munro works at the Elspeth Reid Family Resource Centre, a facility of Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba that offers parenting information and support.
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Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 25, 2012