20 October 2014, by Tan Yi Lin
This is an entry about thinking and talking positive.
No, I’m not going to be all preachy or trying to sound clever about the importance of adopting a positive psyche in child-raising.
I’d just like to share a little anecdote from our recent conversations with Claire.
At 18 months old, Claire is pretty competent at comprehending what we tell her or snippets of family conversations constantly taking place around her (when you have 10 people milling around the house all day, there’s always one or more conversations going on from 7 a.m. to 12 midnight daily.)
The thing is – Claire tends to pick up on only the key verb and noun in each sentence. You know the hilarious series of advertisements for Gold 90.5 FM that end with the tagline “Hear Only The Good Stuff”? Yes, that’s her. So if you dish out the following directions:
“Don’t throw your food!”
“Cannot beat Che Che!”
“Don’t splash mummy!”
Guess what she hears? Yups, that’s right:
“Beat Che Che!”
Claire simply does not understand (or maybe chooses not to) the word “don’t”.
This has made me realise how often we unthinkingly bark out ‘negative’ instructions not to do something – because we tend to zoom in on and focus our attention what is wrong or unpleasing to us as parents or care-givers.
It has made me realise how so very frequently the word “don’t” peppers our daily interaction with our children. It just automatically rolls off our tongue when we see them misbehaving.
And because Claire responds by repeating exactly what I’m telling her NOT to do, it gets us even more annoyed and we repeat the same instruction – only louder, “I said DON’T do that!”
We have since learnt to change our way of talking to Claire – and Coco too. We literally have to think and talk in positive terms only. Instead of saying, “Don’t beat Che Che!”, we rephrase it into “Sayang / pat Che Che gently, okay Claire?” then proceed to guide her little hand in executing the desired action.
It’s not easy. I catch myself opening my mouth with a “don’t”, pausing mid-sentence and quickly rephrasing the instruction using positive words instead.
“Don’t bang the table!” has become “Can you show me how you use the fork and spoon to feed yourself?”
“Don’t run so fast!” (and boy, can this girl RUN) is now “Slow down, Claire, slow down.”
“Don’t climb the stairs!” is “Stay here with mummy, Claire. Let’s play downstairs.”
Truth be told, talking positive does not work its magic 100% of the time. The stubborn little Aries ram will persist to scale heights to the second floor on her strong, stubby little legs until somebody resigns to plucking all 10kg of her right off the stairs. (Unlike Coco who is deathly afraid of falling, this 18 month-old has a serious penchant for parkour.)
Still, it’s a necessary change of mind set and adult behaviour because as parents, we tend to overly critic and criticise without really meaning to, simply by telling our kids “don’t” all day – which is essentially a form of constant discouragement, day in day out.
Like our music teacher shared during our parent education class last week (which is another story for another blog entry), instead of instructing her son not to touch things that he’s not supposed to, she brings his attention to doing something positive with his hands, such as “What else can you do with your hands? How can hands be useful? How about helping Che Che (the helper) set the table for dinner?”
Try it for yourself. Such a simple little switch of words is actually pretty life-changing.
Oh wait, as Yoda (and Dannie) would say, “Do or do not. There is no try.”
And since we’re talking positively here, let’s just go with “do” 🙂