Don’t! Little Word, No Impact.

Apr 19, 2020

Who would have thought, one word would have such little impact.

When I first became aware of the little impact this word has, it threw me.  I had no idea how often I was using it, and how often it left me feeling more frustrated and annoyed.

The awareness of this word can have a huge impact on the words you choose to guide and teach (discipline) your child. It is fascinating to notice your go-to words in parenting. It is out of my need to actively avoid this word and my own struggles to come up with solutions that inspired me to write this blog. If you stop to think about how often you use the word ‘don’t’ in your daily life, you may be surprised. It is a common go-to word used to stop unwanted behaviour in children and can be used re-actively to have our needs met, like a reflex.  It is no surprise it is one word. It’s quick, said usually in a tone that means business or a nagging tone of frustration.

We do and will feel triggered, annoyed and frustrated with our children from time to time, that is a given. We will most certainly feel the need to stop some behaviours quickly too. Here is the clincher the word ‘don’t’ has very little impact, in the guiding of your child’s behaviour. Of course, some behaviours need to be stopped very quickly to avoid danger, and this blog is for you to gain awareness around the word don’t long term or if you are using it as your favourite go-to discipline strategy.

The word ‘don’t’ when used often in discipline is  unhelpful because your brain (and your child’s brain in particular) cannot compute the word don’t. The brain does not register the word don’t, and makes it non-effective in communicating and guiding children. Because of its closing off and shutting down nature, it also does not effectively communicate what you are trying to achieve or encourage.

“Don’t run in the pool area.”

“Don’t touch the wet paint.”

“Don’t forget to drop the mail off.”

“Don’t hit your brother.”

“Don’t whinge.”

“Don’t do that.”


Right now, I DON’T want you to think of a pink elephant in a blue tutu. Don’t you dare think about that pink elephant up on his tip-toes in his frilly blue, spotted tutu?
Now, what are you thinking about? Do you see what I mean?

It’s not only fascinating, but very helpful information. It helps to recognize that the very thing you want to avoid may very well be the thing you are encouraging. It supports us all to be more mindful of our language and how we influence children to communicate their boundaries too.

3 Ways to Actively Avoid the word DON’T

Encourage What You DO Want

Since the word ‘don’t’ does not register when attempting to stop unwanted behaviour, you could instead focus on the behaviour you do want to encourage. By placing emphasis on the behaviour that you want, you can more easily guide your child in these situations and speak openly and honestly in communicating your needs and what it looks and sounds like.

For example:

‘Use your walking feet.’ RATHER THAN ‘Don’t run.’

‘Practice taking your time, slow down.’ RATHER THAN ‘Don’t rush.’

‘Can you show me your patience?’ RATHER THAN ‘Don’t push in.’

‘It’s dangerous when you run on wet cement, slow down and walk around the pool.’ RATHER THAN ‘Don’t run around the pool.’

‘It’s not helpful when you whinge. Use your normal tone and I can hear you.’ RATHER THAN ‘Don’t whinge/Don’t whine/Don’t nag/Don’t complain or a big frustrated ‘don’t’.’

Notice Your Don’t Reflex. Is It a Habit?

It is an easy word to pick up as a habit, especially when you feel drained for energy, upset, hangry or at the peak of a challenging phase with your child.

Practice actively listening to the language you are using. Does the word “don’t”’ pop up more often than you would like, and in what types of situations do you tend to use it? Is it useful? The more aware you are of your language, the easier it will be to modify your own behaviour and emotions and choose other ways to respond.

Pay particular attention to:

  • How quickly you jump to say it.
  • If it is the first word you use when you want to stop unwanted behaviour.
  • How it makes you feel when you use it.
  • The tone in which it is used.
  • The number of times you use it within a day.
  • Does it have the desired outcome?
  • If it works.

Be Prepared.

Plan ahead… it’s all in the preparation. Have some other phrases up your sleeve to use instead of the word ‘don’t,’ and practice them so that when a stressful situation comes up, you are prepared to use it and not be drawn into old habits or the reflex to say it.

Good alternatives to ‘don’t’ include:

  • You need to make a different choice.
  • Check in with yourself?
  • How’s that working for you?
  • Notice what you are doing
  • That is not a choice
  • Do you need my help with that?
  • That is not helpful, make a different choice.
  • Can you practice using your ….? (Gentle hands, walking feet, inside voice, strong legs, assertive voice).

Enjoy the awareness this blog brings to your parenting and if you have this ‘don’t’ reflex, go easy on yourself and don’t, don’t yourself.

Yours in Harmony


Helping you to raise the next generation to be the resilient, kind and connected generation.