Years ago, when my son was small, I remember reading a story about two boys who climbed a tree together and got themselves stuck out on a limb. Realizing their predicament, they yelled for help and their moms came running.
Both moms were frightened because the boys were far enough up that, if they fell, they would surely end up with a broken bone or worse.
The one mom yelled up to her son, “Don’t fall!” and the other mom hollered “Hold on tight!”
Of course, the boy who received the “don’t fall” advice did precisely the opposite and fell, breaking an arm in the process, while the boy who was told to “hold on tight” did as he was told and was brought safely to the ground.
After doing time momming a rough and tumble boy, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to think about that story and how childhood becomes a litany of No. Don’t. Never. Not.
Don’t eat so many cookies. Don’t run down the stairs. Don’t jump off the retaining wall.
But it’s oh so important to instead always, always, always–tell them what you want them to do, not what you don’t want them to do.
First off, for kids a “don’t” always seems to translate into “hmmmm…wonder would would happen if we did.”
Second, and more importantly, it’s about leading with a positive rather than a negative. DO tell them what you want them to do. Give them something positive to aim for rather than something negative to distract them.
I’ve been thinking about this idea the last few weeks because I’ve caught myself in some negative self-talk, and to be perfectly honest, some of it may have involved something along the lines of “don’t eat so many cookies” (chips may have also been on that list).
The No. Don’t. Never. Not. litany from childhood continues on. The only problem is there are now MORE of them than when I was a kid! And they’re all really important things.
Here’s the deal—my deal at least—in a world of punishments and rewards, sticks and carrots, I’m a carrot girl all the way. My life is better when I’m actively moving toward a positive rather than merely pushing against a negative.
But how to do that? How do I reframe those don’ts into dos? Think about the things I DO want to do?
Here’s a for instance. I enjoying looking down and seeing my toenails painted a fun, festive color. The other day as I stroked on the bright orange polish color, I thought about how much I DO like it when my toenails are a painted, rather than how much I don’t like it when they aren’t painted.
I’m not giving myself a pedicure to avoid a negative; instead, I’m chasing after a positive. And since I practically live in sandals all summer long, there’s more opportunities for me to see my happy clambake orange toenails. I’m creating added positive value.
Not exactly earthshaking, but honestly, my happy toenails poking out of my sandals began serving as a call to action for reframing other areas of my life.
- Don’t text and drive became DO drive safely—keep the phone hands-free.
- Don’t forget to make hotel reservations turned into DO get the travel plans finalized.
- Don’t eat so much junk food is now DO make healthy food choices.
- Don’t get so stressed out transformed into DO relax and treat yourself with kindness.
How can you reframe your Don’ts into Dos?
Then think about “whatcha have to gain” instead of “whaddya got to lose.”