"Do" instead of "do not"

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

Tori had a long day at work and she’s preparing dinner for Oli, her 2 year old daughter. She chops up some tofu and rice and places it on her plate. She puts it in her high chair while telling her what’s for dinner. Oli picks up the plate, tosses out the food and starts banging the table with it. She’s stunned at her reaction as she watches the tofu and rice spread all over the floor. “Do not bang the plate!” she says as she takes the plate from her hands, at which point she kicks his body back and starts crying. loudly. Whoa! What just happened?

What could Oli be feeling?

• Maybe she’s tired, or not hungry.

• Maybe she wants to play with her mommy first, before eating.

• Maybe there’s a toy at daycare she wants to play with and her mom made her leave it behind.

• Maybe she wants to use her green bowl instead of the plate.

There could be a number of reasons but she can’t tell her mommy. The feelings are too big.

What is Tori feeling and thinking?

Does she not like tofu? She usually likes it.

Does she not like that plate? That’s her usual plate

Did she have a bad day today? I had a bad day!

Is she tired? I am tired! The only thing she can think of right now is how she should not bang the plate.

How can she help Oli calm down and eat?

Start with hugging her so she knows that even if the feelings are so big, it’s ok, mommy will help her. Then acknowledge the different feelings she may be having;

• “I see that you are sad. Why don’t you use your words, “I’m sad”

• Is it because of the tofu? You can say “No Tofu”

• Is it the plate? I thought that this is your favorite plate.

• This redirects the child’s attention away from the plate and helps them express their feelings and start using their words to start expressing themselves..

About the plate

• When correcting children’s behavior we have a natural tendency to focus on what not to do.

• By saying “Don’t do that!” or “Stop doing that!” your child is not provided with alternatives; a non-action is hard for a child. If they’re not banging the plate, then what can they do to express themselves and their feelings?

•“Plates are for food, not for banging. “ ( this statement points out the correct use of plates)

•Where are we going to put our food if the plate breaks?” Show a sad face so she knows it’s not a good thing if a plate breaks. ( points out the consequence if a plate breaks)

•“How about you put it down on the table and we get the forks, spoons, and napkins to set up the table together? (provides alternative actions instead of non-action)

•Why don’t we clean up the food that spilled and get you some new food. And this time we will keep the plate on the table. (provides an action and suggests a better way to behave)

Nugget of Insight

• Acknowledging your child’s feelings and providing them with alternative behavior will redirect their attention from the behavior you want them to stop doing – to a positive action they can do instead.

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