There is no feeling so helpless, as seeing from a distance, a child chasing a ball that is headed for the street. Will that child remember to stop? It’s an acute fear of anyone who has children, and the fear never goes away, even when one’s own children have long grown up. We prepare for the situation, hoping that it is never tested
In this preparation with the child, there is an important point that is often overlooked. People react faster to instructions that tell them what to do compared to those which direct them what not to do. The mental processes to execute the two types of instructions are not the same. People are more likely to be able to execute the positive instruction successfully.
So the instruction: “Stop at the curb” is more effective than the more often used “Do not run into the street.” Training should emphasize this direction.
Emphasizing the instructions about what should be done, rather than what should be avoided is a more effective strategy to get the desired result in many activities. It is worth the effort to give some thought to ensure that the instructions are phrased in the most appropriate manner.
One other point about the ball. The immediate safe response is the most important aspect, but the longer term considerations can also be addressed. A child may believe that if the ball is crushed in the street, he will be without it. Reduce the long term consequences of this perspective. Make it clear that if the ball does go in the street and is crushed by a car, the adults will put aside the important things they are doing and immediately go to the store to replace it. Then do it. If the time comes and the ball has to be replaced, it is a very satisfying trip. There are plenty of other opportunities, with much less at stake, to teach about the consequences of their actions.
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