Mama Drama: To Do or Not To Do
posted by: Lisa Vratny-Smith
Dear Mama Drama:
I am so frustrated with my children because they are so oppositional. It seems like whatever I tell them they do the opposite. If I say don’t run, they run. If I say don’t hit you brother, they hit. If I say don’t forget your coat, they forget the coat.
They also don’t want to get ready for bed, clean up after meals, or pick up their toys. It is so exasperating! We seem to be in never ending conflict and need some help.
Research shows that when we tell children “don’t run,” they process the run and not the don’t. Additionally, when we tell our children what not to do, we assume they know what to do instead. I’m sure your children know how to walk, but they may not be processing that walking is what you want them to do instead of running. There are a lot of other choices such as skipping, hopping, twirling, tip toeing, jumping, and sliding to name a few – I don’t mean to be flippant, just demonstrating the plethora of options.
Rather than telling your children what not to do, tweak your instructions to tell them what “to do.” Taking your examples from above, change them to “walk please,” “use gentle hands,” and “remember your coat.” They seem like simple changes that wouldn’t make that much difference, but they really do. With these directions your children know exactly what you expect of them.
Your children also need to know what you mean by walking and using gentle hands. Assume they do not have the same perception of your words unless you have taught them specifically and repeatedly. Children need to practice a skill hundreds of times before they consistently perform it independently. I always say if you are thinking to yourself, “I’ve told her that a thousand times!” get excited because she’s almost got it down!
If your children are really digging in their heels you can also play the opposite game. “Don’t you dare go up there and brush your teeth!” “Do not put those dishes in the dishwasher.” “You had better leave those toys in the middle of the floor so we can all step on them.” My sons think it is absolutely hilarious when I do this and it helps me keep a sense of humor when I’m becoming frustrated. There are only two rules for the opposite game. One is that the game ends if they don’t do the opposite of what they are asked. The other is “I love you” never means the opposite and we don’t use its opposite either.
Taking the extra second to think about what we want our children to do allows us to be clear about our expectations and provides a more positive experience for them.
Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to Lisa@milehighmamas.com, and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.