Chris Stephens/Plain Dealer
Chris Stephens/Plain Dealer
I work full time at TDS as the Manager of Training and Development and part time at Edgewood College as an adjunct professor. I serve on the Board of Directors for Avenues to Community and was recently appointed the Vice President of the Oregon, Wis. Elementary PTO. I’m active in the ALS community as my mom recently passed from this disease. I’m a wife, a sister, a cousin, a friend, and a daughter. But, and most importantly, I’m a MOM. I’m a proud parent of multiples and a singleton (ages 5, 4 and 4).

Sometimes life seems, well, a little bit busy. And either I forgot the parenting manual they handed out at the hospital or they didn’t give me one. While I would love to say I have this all under control, I won’t lie—when I need help, I turn to experts and deliberate practice. No problem–I have TDS Internet so research is always at my fingertips.

As such I found an author who I really relate to: Amy McReady. I’m sharing this because her book, If I Have to Tell You One More Time: The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids To Listen Without Nagging, Reminding, or Yelling (read sample chapter here), has been a game changer for me.

This week I took one of her tips–stop saying no and ditch the “don’t.”. Amy says:

    If you were to keep track, how many times a day would you find yourself uttering the dreaded four-letter word of childhood: don’t?

Don’t be late. Don’t eat popsicles in the living room! Don’t bother your sister. DON’T EAT POPSICLES IN THE LIVING ROOM!

While our motives are good, saying no, don’t, and other such negative commands cause more problems than they solve. In fact, they play a big role in how our kids perceive themselves and in the amount of cooperation they give us. Switching up the words we use, however, can make our action match our intention.

Let’s start by understanding why “don’t” often doesn’t work: Negative commands are confusing. I facilitate an in-class exercise with parents where I give moms and dads a series of “don’t” commands: “Don’t sit down, don’t look at me, don’t stand still, don’t look at your neighbor,” and so forth. The look on their faces is priceless. They take on a “deer in the headlights” expression as they try to process what they should and should not do.

Our children face the same problem. Negative commands, such as “don’t” and “no” require a double mental process: our kids first must understand what not to do, and then figure out what they’re supposed to do instead. For example, “don’t be late” might mean to us, “shut off those video games and go get dressed for your band concert,” but to a child it doesn’t really mean anything.

My focus has been incorporating more “DO” in my household such as “I’ll give you this popsicle but you have to eat it in the kitchen” and, “You can talk to your sister once she’s done with her quiet time.” It has worked wonders (and I imagine the theory could work the same in a corporate setting as well.)

What tricks can you share on positive parenting?


  1. Carrie Carpenter

    Interesting! I teach horseback riding lessons and I always make sure to teach in positives. The reasoning is simple – When I tell someone, “Don’t let your hands cross over the horse’s neck.” What they see in their mind is their hands crossing over the horse’s neck. If I say, “Keep each hand on its own side the horse’s neck.” They see in their head each hand where it should be. With riding lessons, things happen fast, especially as the rider becomes more advanced. This is why it is so important that they can react to my comments quickly. That comes from speaking in positives!

  2. I consistently have to use positive reinforcement when working with employers who don’t want to spend money or utilize the numerous ‘free opportunities’ given to them by the state’s DWD. Thank you for the image of why the positive is more beneficial and less confusing than the negative remarks.

  3. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks for your comment. I’m so thrilled you found it to be useful, Jon.

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