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What Did This Teacher Do to Guarantee Behavior She Did Not Want?

While Chandler was still in elementary school, he noticed some older guys flipping almost empty Coke bottles high into the air. The bottles somersaulted in mid-air and then miraculously landed upright. What a challenge.

Chandler entered his class with an almost empty bottle of Gatorade. About a fourth of the liquid was left in the bottom. Perfect! To the delight of his friends, Chandler began demonstrating his newly honed skill. At that moment, the teacher entered the classroom. Feeling unamused, the teacher did not congratulate Chandler on his new mastery. Instead, she said, “Chandler, stop flipping that bottle.”

Chandler could not—absolutely could not—make his hand stop flipping that bottle. It wasn’t that Chandler didn’t want to please the teacher. He simply couldn’t control his hand. Why didn’t the teacher’s simple request work?

When adults begin with words such as “stop” “don’t” or “quit” and follow that directive with a verb, you can almost bet that the verb will determine the action taken by the child. If the teacher had reworded her request by saying, “Chandler, very clever. Please put the bottle on my desk until class ends,” she would probably have gotten a courteous response from Chandler.

Why does this happen? These things occur because most of the time, most of us tend to ignore “don’t” or “stop,” and latch our thoughts onto the verb. Without realizing it, we unintentionally trigger children and even adults to do exactly what we do not want.

The more positive alternative is to state what we want others to do.

In summary, we will almost always get a more pleasant response when we tell others exactly what we want. A positive statement will work well with adults, grandparents, co-workers, and spouses as well as children and babies. The trick will be to replace “don’t” “stop” and “quit” with words that state what you want.


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