“Don’t Say Don’t” The Secret of Language in Parenting





 It's my turn again for this edition of our "Diary".  


This time I'm sharing something close to my heart which is the power of positive language in parenting.  Have a read and I challenge you to give the strategies a try.  


You WILL see the difference...............



I’m going to ask you something!  Whatever you do, DON'T think of a pink kangaroo…………………………………


Hmm! I bet right now that you have an image of a pink kangaroo hopping around in your mind!

Our brain is an amazing tool.  It is also very obedient. 


When we receive a don’t or a negative instruction the brain processes it in a particular way.

Generally, the way the brain works is that it has to create an impression (usually visual) of what it’s not mean to do, before it can then create the delete instruction or the don’t do it instruction.  This can be confusing and then influence us to actually do it!!!   

For example - If you have a toddler, how many times have you given them an ice-cream or similar and told them “now don’t drop it” only to turn around and find it on the floor with your toddler crying! 


Or given them a little box of fresh juice with the straw in the top telling them “now don’t squeeze it” only to find within seconds a fountain of juice coming from the top of the straw! 


Basically, your toddler’s brain has created the image of dropping the ice-cream and squeezing the box of juice.  So when as parents we give don’t instructions, we are actually bringing attention to what we don’t want!


One of my key messages when coaching parents and families is “What we pay attention to is what we get more of”  Therefore, you need to focus on what you do want and ensure your communication with your child is the same by describing the behaviour that you want to see.


Let’s look at it in practise! Here are  some examples of reframing don’t into do language - why not have ago at writing your own too.


Instead of:                                                                                   Try:

Don’t be so rough with the baby (you can                             Touch the baby gently, like a little fairy touch

substitute the word baby with cat/dog etc)

Stop! Don’t do that you’ll break it                                            Hold that really carefully honey – please pop

                                                                                                       it down gently just here


Mind you don’t fall                                                                      You’re balancing really well – walk nice and

                                                                                                       steady (you might add hold on tightly)


Don’t play on the stairs it’s dangerous                                    Play in here please... there is lots more room


Don’t run beside the road                                                         Walk with me please darling next to the fence



Positive vs Negative


How many positive to negative comments do you think the average 5 year old child gets in  a day? 


In 1992 American Educationalist Jack Cranfield did some research – he followed 100 children around for a whole day the results showed an average of 72 positive comments to 684 negative comments that’s around 10:1 negative to positive comments.


In addition parents say “Don’t do that” on average every 9 minutes! 


Now just imagine this in your working environment!  Consider your boss or your friend saying “no, don’t do that” constantly – what sort of impact might that make on you?


What if he or she only noticed what you don’t do, and not what you have done!


I am a real believer in the power of positive language.  Using positive language to say what you want rather than what you don’t is one of the best techniques to feel calmer in control and overall more positive.


Here are some more examples – 

Instead of:                                                                    Try:

Stop shouting that’s too loud                                    Let’s use our nice quiet indoor voices please -


No! Stop doing that now, it’s time for tea               That looks interesting, you can finish that off                                                                                                            after tea if you would like to




No more No

Do you find that sometimes that the more you REALLY want your little one to get washed or dressed or the more urgently you need them to put their shoes on the more likely they are to dig their heels in and say NO!


Again the way we use language can get a yes more often!


Instead of:

Would you like to get dressed now (or) Shall we get dressed now?


I bet you’d like to have time to play with your friends today before school starts? “yes?” OK let’s go and get dressed quickly so we have lots of time for play


Time to get dressed, let’s see how quickly we can do it today – are you ready!

Instead of:

Can you put your shoes on for me please we need to go to school soon.


Let’s feed the ducks on the way to school today! Let’s get our shoes on quickly so we can go now – do you want to carry the bread?



It might be worth considering this approach – “Do you want to put on your coat or shoes first?” (this approach pre-supposes your child will do it) and always finish this statement with a thank you!


Words are very powerful

Our words are very powerful and with the best of intentions, when we are dealing with the stresses and strains of everyday life in parenting, it can be really easy to get into the habit of only noticing what’s going wrong or the things that annoy us about their behaviour.


We all respond better to praise and encouragement than we do nagging and criticism and our children are no different!   Positive language and use of praise works wonders with children.  It helps them to grow and flourish – So what better reason do we need.


So until our next edition, I’d love to hear how you get on and what you notice – contact me via the info below:


I’d love to hear how you felt about this and our other blogs – comment at the bottom and contact me via; 


  • sharon.lawton@natural-flair.com

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