It’s only a tin can

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’



Last edited July 04th 2016

Parent Contradicts

What effect does it have on children when they receive conflicting messages?

Anita Renfroe’s ‘Mum Song‘ captures our ludicrousness with her opposing instructions: the child must chew her food slowly and  hurry.

It makes us smile as parents.

But inconsistencies are frustrating and confusing to children and sometimes damaging to their self-esteem.

And often the incongruity isn’t so blatantly obvious.

‘I love you,’ says the Parent without making eye contact or any other warm connection.

‘You know I love you.’ –‘Don’t bother me.’

‘Do what you’re told.’ –‘Can’t you think for yourself.’

Are your children getting mixed messages from you? (Not only with your words – but what about your body language or way of being with them?)

What impact might this be having on your children?

What is the message you really want them to get?

What could you do differently that would be more helpful?

“When a child has no doubt about your love and admiration of him, his contentment is the ground on which he can succeed in his endeavors. He will be able to act on his own behalf authentically …” Naomi  : the child must chew her food slowly but must hurry., Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves 2006, p. 43

Last edited June 04th 2010

‘Here’s your hat. 
And your scarf.’

These words could be part of the ‘Mum Song’ lyric. Anita Renfroe’s Supermum runs round doing everything for this child. She gives her her clothes and her shoes – and presumably everything else. Imagine this same child on her first day at school.

Where’s Mummy? Teacher’s asking me a question.

I don’t know what I should say. And I’m so hungry.

Mummy’s not here to open my lunch box.

Everybody else is eating sandwiches.

I can’t open this. I can’t open my lunchbox.

I’m so hungry. And I want to pee.

Hold my legs tight together.

I can’t go by myself.

I want to pee so bad.

Uh oh.

Doing everything for your child does not equal loving your child. Love is about helping your child to develop her own competence. Observe your own actions. And your child’s. What are the things that your child could be learning to do for herself? Being a coaching parent is not about throwing your child in at the deep end. It’s day by day gentle support towards competence. What could happen if you choose to support your child to do as much as possible for herself?

Last edited April 27th 2010