I was in a toilet this morning and overheard a mum with her son as she stood at the sink.
“Please stand nicely behind me,” she said, “I don’t want you to fall and crack your head open, that would really ruin the holiday.”
Hmm. I’m all for wanting kids to behave themselves and not charge around in public toilets, splashing water about and generally being a nuisance, but this seemed a little extreme.
When we were children we were forever being reminded that the merest slip on a climbing frame would leave us with broken necks, that a misjudged forward roll would result in a broken neck, that we should eat our biscuits carefully for fear of choking and breaking our necks…
OK, so perhaps not that last one, but you get the point.
There is a lot of evidence though that shows that kids are very susceptible to suggestion, so you really do need to be careful about how you phrase things. Imagine your child crossing a cream carpet with a glass full of Ribena – it’s always a cream carpet when there is Ribena around. Instinct, obviously, is to clutch at your chest and scream ‘Noooo! Don’t spill it! Don’t spill it!’
All this does though, apart from startle the poor child and immediately make them slosh the dreaded blackcurrant juice across the shag pile, is to place the image in their mind of them spilling said juice. You may as well say ‘Darling, please do feel free to get some actual blackcurrants and trample them into the carpet won’t you?’
What you actually need to do is reframe the warning in a positive way – ‘hold that glass nicely with two hands!’ or ‘walk carefully with your drink!’ It’s a subtle difference, but apparently an important one.
I’m not very good at this.
It comes much more naturally to me to screech something along the lines of ‘spill that Ribena and I’ll break your neck!’
Not quite my mother’s warning, but just as heartfelt.
How positive is your parenting?