It’s a fantastic Irish summer day and everyone’s enjoying the beach.

A young family is walking towards me. The child’s swings his head towards a  discarded drink can.

‘Don’t jump on it,’ says the mother.

Her words transform  him into a guided missile that locks onto the drink can lying on the pavement.

He’s jumps on it. The force of his body squashing it in the middle.

The mother resorts to sarcasm.

‘Oh great, why don’t you dance on it!’

The boy, of course, complies!  Waving his arms, wiggling his bottom as he performs multiple jumps on the can.

So what’s would be more helpful to create more cooperative behaviour?

Here’s my three suggestions:

1. Limit the limits you set.

The fewer the better.

Put your energy into  maintaining those limits that really matter.  (Your kid’s got far more energy than you have – so preserve yours for what matters!)

How do you know what matters?

I figure that limits need to be around safety and respect.

Is this action going to hurt him / anyone else/ any animal or any thing of  importance in any way?

Is this action disrepectful to him/ you or anyone else?

If the answer is ‘no’ to both these questions, I can’t see the need for a limit.

In my books, jumping on an old can is the sort of things boys do. I don’t figure it’s hurting him or anyone else . He works off a bit of energy and feels good that he can SQUASH a can!

I would have commented ‘Wow – you squashed that can right in the middle!’

You could even encourage his awareness of environmental issues by encouraging him to put his squashed can in the recycle bin. (Keep hand sanitiser available).


2. Don’t say ‘don’t’. Rather say what you DO want.

Children are so active, they don’t hear the ‘don’t’ –  they just hear the action word.

So if you say ‘Don’t jump on the can’ – they hear  ‘jump on the can’.

That’s the behaviour that you’re likely to get!

So if this had been a  potentially dangerous situation, I’d start with his name to focus his attention and say something positive that would hopefully redirect his attention.

In a case like this, it might be,’

‘How many seagulls can you count?’

and at times when you’re wanting a different behaviour, figure out what would be more helpful.

For example, rather than ‘Don’t run’ say, ‘Walk.’

Instead of  ‘Don’t shout’ say ‘Talking softly’.


3. Avoid sarcasm and rather use words that create connection.

Young children don’t ‘get’ sarcasm. Older children are hurt by it.

When children recogonise that your words are not sincere and connecting, they will experience your behaviour as ‘attack’ – and then you’re likely to get defensive behaviour in retaliation.

Other related articles:

‘When Emotions  Get Heated’

‘Negative instructions’