WordWatch: “Don’t...”

by Scott Noelle

At my youngest daughter’s sixth birthday party, I engaged a gaggle of giggling girls in a chasing game by standing in their midst and shouting, “Please DON’T chase me!”

Of course they began chasing me immediately! :) Aside from my obvious playfulness, there are two reasons they completely ignored the word “don’t.”

First, the word “chase” conjured an image of chasing in their minds, and once they saw chasing, it was “monkey see, monkey do.” (There’s no image of “don’t.”)

Second, they knew I wouldn’t have said “don’t chase me” unless I expected them to chase me. And children are wired to meet the expectations of their elders.

Improve Your Groove

Today, notice whenever you say “don’t” to your child...

  • Don’t wake the baby.”
  • Don’t make a mess.”
  • Don’t hit your brother.”
  • Don’t eat too much of that.”
  • Don’t stay out too late.”

What are your “don’t” statements causing your child to focus on (and thus attract)? What expectations are you conveying?

Originally published on 2007-05-24
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