I like to shop alone. Unfortunately, I usually have an entourage of small children surrounding me as I shop. I do not know about you, but when I take my children shopping, it seems as though they are fondling everything in sight.

Sure, there are a few times when I am lucky enough to catch most of the items before they put it in the cart or in their mouths, but most often I am stuck buying a Kit Kat or two because one of the kids touched the wrapper with hands that have probably touched something I do not want to think about.

To combat this problem, I would bring toys along. Being naive, I thought the toys would provide entertainment for the kids: they would give them something to do while I manned the cart. Wrong! It was watching me bend down to retrieve the toys that provided entertainment for the children. When I finally resorted to taking the toys away, the kids would be back at touching everything in sight.

Now, you know that kids are very suggestible. It is very easy to tell a child to focus on holding something small, like a set of keys or the cookie that, I promise her, she will get if she is super good. This worked for awhile, but usually they would be too interested in the strategically placed candy bars and toys. Then, one day while visiting the mall, I heard myself roar something totally shocking towards the kids….

“Don’t touch those toys!!”

It was as though I was on Mommy Autopilot and repeating a refrain from my own mother; “don’t touch”, “don’t run”, “don’t stick your finger up your nose and grab the fruit”, “don’t”, “Don’t”, “DON’T”……

Apparently, when I am in Mommy Mode I forget about to engage the training that I’ll be paying off until the day I die. In this case, I forgot that it takes the human brain longer to process a negative word (such as no, not, don’t) than a positive one. Some hypnotists will tell you that the brain cannot process negative commands but that is not necessarily true.

The brain can process a negative command, but will most likely think of the positive version of that command before getting to the true intent of the statement. That is, the poor child will think of the thing that you do not want him or her to do. For example, if I tell you not to think of your favorite kind of ice-cream, you will undoubtedly at some point in time, think about a cold bowl of frozen delight. This is the same with children, if you tell them not to spill their red Kool-Aid all over the carpet; odds are they are visualizing you with the scrub brush.

Really young children, have a hard time processing negative commands. For most children under the age of seven, it is as though they don’t hear the words Not or Don’t. Children this age have very strong imaginations: often they cannot tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Thinking of holding the item is only one small step away from grabbing it.

If say, you’re in the supermarket with your three year old and you tell her not to touch a certain toy, odds are that she is visualizing herself with that particular toy. The more she thinks about holding that toy, the more she wants it and the harder it is for her not to want to touch it. All this can be avoided, however, by being sure to state what we want the child to do rather than what we don’t want her to do. For example, you can say “You are really doing a good job of sitting still in the cart for Mommy today” or something else which tells the child what you expect from him or her.

The NLP rule of Positive Intent can apply to any situation. Negative words (such as don’t and not) tend to slow adult thinking down as they have to take the time to worth through the negative image. In young children, however, it gets them thinking about doing the bad stuff, the things that they’re not supposed to do.

So, please remember to tell the children what you want them to do rather than what you do not want them to do. It will increase the odds that your child will behave well. I know kids and I know I cannot promise it will work every time, but anything that gives a glimmer of hope is worth a shot. That being said, I want to remind all of the childless people reading this to remember the most fundamental point of this entry: remember to wash all the fruit you buy at the supermarket!

Do you have questions, comments or something that you’d like for me to write about? Please feel free to contact me and tell me about it!

Copyright 2006, S.T. Davis. All rights reserved.