Maren Schmidt: Giving positive directions

A funny thing about the mind; it takes a while for our minds to figure out how to "don't."

"Don't hit your baby brother." The young child doesn't have the thinking skills or experience to consider what to do instead of hitting his baby brother, much less redirect the energy and anger to a positive source. The direction of "Don't hit your baby brother" probably leads a young mind to consider alternatives such as pinching, biting or various methods to inflict pain or express displeasure.

What should we do? We need to redirect the child to do what we want them to do. Perhaps saying something like: Come here and sit next to me; put your hands in your lap and let's sing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star"; you may only use your hands to help. Let's go and take a walk, or : have a snack, take a nap, swing, or whatever redirection you can think of in the heat of the moment.

To redirect a child's behavior, it is essential to give clear and positive directions. Saying don't or stop is ineffective. We need to be precise in our requests, ready to follow through and lead by the hand, if necessary.

The young subconscious mind cannot differentiate between the commands "Don't Hit" and "Hit."

Try this experiment with your younger than five-year-old child by playing the Verb Game. On 3 x 5 index cards, with one word per card, write the following words: jump, walk, sit, stand, twirl, spin, squirm, wiggle, laugh, smile, nod, shake, blink, smack, stomp, tap, clap, click, rub, pat, crawl, freeze, stop.

I suggest writing these words down because in a moment of great need, I can never think of enough action words. But I usually can find the stack of cards.

Play the game by telling your child that you are going to play the "Verb Game," and that you'll say a word and both you and your child will do it together. Read "jump" out loud and begin to jump. Jump for about 10 seconds with your child, then give the next command. After the fourth or so command, say, "Don't jump." Wait about ten seconds and see what happens.

What you more than likely will see is your child jump or do whatever you've instructed him or her to not do. Continue on with rest of the commands and then offer your child a chance to give the commands. Play on a daily basis to help your child learn to follow directions by connecting mind and body, thoughts and actions.

Count how many times a day you say, "don't." It can be quite eye opening. Here are some ways to rephrase our don't messages into do messages.

Don't run. Walk, please.

Don't put your coat. Hang up your coat please.

Don't forget. Remember to:

Don't talk. Please be quiet.

Don't go that way. Come here. Stay with me.

Don't touch. Put your hands behind your back.

Don't wiggle. Sit like this.

Don't play with your food. Use your fork.

Don't throw that. Stop. Put it down. Hand me that.

Don't play the TV loud. Make the TV quieter.

Don't yell. Speak softly. Use an inside voice.

Don't hit. Use your words to solve your problems.

Don't make a face. Smile.

To make statements more positive, add please and thank you!

Remember, it's difficult to do the don'ts. Play the verb game to connect body and mind.

Next Week: Paying Attention to the Right Stuff

Write to Maren@KidsTalkNews.com Copyright 2008.

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