Have you ever wondered how to get your child to listen to you? Here’s one trick that can help. It’s easy and effective. All it takes is a bit of practice.

The Trick:

Tell them what you want them to do. Not what you don’t want them to do.

Think you’re doing that already? You may need to stop and think again.

How you say it makes all the difference in the world.

Consider this.

Do you think the following directions or asks mean the same thing to your child?

  • Don’t pee your pants vs. Keep your underwear dry
  • Don’t actually put it in your mouth vs. Let’s pretend we’re eating it
  • Don’t run onto the road vs. Freeze and wait for mommy

The statements may mean the same to us. After all, isn’t not peeing your pants and keeping your underwear dry the exact same thing? It may be to us but it’s not to your child.

In terms of how our brains process information, the directions on the left are two step processes whereas the directions on the right are one step processes.

We’ve all heard this tricky test before: Don’t think of an elephant. Where does our mind immediately go? It thinks of an elephant then tries not to think about it. But the picture or idea of the elephant ALWAYS comes first. That’s because the negative requires two separate actions by our brain.

The first is to process the item or topic. The next is to apply the negative.

“Don’t pee your pants” is going to make your child first think about peeing his/her pants and then they’ll try to figure out how not to do it. It requires a lot of thought. Instead, when you say “keep your underwear dry” your child will picture keeping their underwear dry. That’s it. They won’t think about not peeing, just dry underwear.

See the difference?

Try it out if you don’t believe me.

The trick is to make your instructions as simple as possible. Make a conscious effort to direct your child toward what you want them to do rather than complicating matters by making them think about what you don’t want them to do first.

This also applies to adults.

For the most part, adults understand that don’t pee your pants means that you must keep your underwear dry. The fact that you may not have ever considered that the two statements are different speaks to how the brain automatically processes this type of information.

However, when someone is in a high stress situation or panicking their brains are operating differently.

Parts of their brain “turn off” in favour of more important functions. This changes the ability to process information. If you’re dealing with someone who is worked up and you need them to listen to you then apply the same technique.

It’ll make a world of difference.