I never believed in the punishment of writing “I will not play ball in the house” ten times. Or “I will not put a frog in the punchbowl” twenty-five times. They didn’t work. I wrote those things and then played cops and robbers (and knocked out my front teeth) instead. Or I put sand or toxic berries in the punchbowl.
The thing is: we must be absolute in what we are requesting or else we’re gonna get a different outcome. All bets are off if you’re not clear. I know this thought is all over the internet, it has been for years, especially since Rhonda Byrne’s brilliantly marketed and re-spun tale on a millennia-old theory: “The Secret,” which is all about the laws of attraction.
This is nothing new. I am no sage. I am a mom of three boys.
I worked in corporate communications for many years and I loved it. One of the things I miss most about that world is the fast pace and brilliant minds I worked with. All those jars of brains…
Anyway, where was I? Ah yes: ask for what you want or you’ll get something else.
The boys are all literate and adept with handwriting. So, despite my dismissal of writing what we won’t do, the “sentences” as sentences are happening because I’ve changed how I’m going about it.
Backstory: I used to be one of those people who would say to my sons: “stop jumping on the couch!” only to turn around and see them rolling on it. Then I’d say, “stop rolling on the couch!” and then they’d return to jumping or start punching it.
It wasn’t until the fifth time that I realized it was my fault. They are children. And we all are from time to time. Admit it: when you don’t want to do something, you’re not accessing your reasonable and supposedly self-actualized adult self to determine why you don’t want to do it; you go straight back to your child coping skills which are simpler: they tell you to not like what’s before you. The words that come out of your mouth then might be elevated and rational, but inside you there’s a seven-year-old saying, “Because it’s yucky and I don’t want to. I’d rather do THHHISSSSS….!” which could be any number of things: running, playing, sitting, sleeping, jumping or petting the dog.
At the fifth time, I said this: “Sit on the couch. That is all. It is furniture. Trampolines are for jumping.” And that pretty much ended it. Until the next time a few days later.
I stated what I wanted. I stayed away from negating language: “no” or “don’t” or “isn’t” or “won’t” and focused on the positive; the affirmative, the WHAT I WANT.
The theory about using only positive language is that the mere usage or inclusion of the negating language neutralizes or invalidates the positive and affirmative language. It’s sorta like saying “Fear is not part of my vocabulary” to which I would reply, “Um, but you just … said … it. You said ‘fear.'” You see lots of this with “survivor,” which is way more positive, instead of “victim,” which connotes something entirely different and to me. “Victim” also connotes much more long-standing experience and it still gives the upper hand to whatever the challenge was. (This whole thing reminds me of that scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail when Arthur encounters the Knights Who Say Ni when they later say, “Suffice to say is the word we cannot say…”)
And using positive language …? That shit’s hard, man. I am conditioned to saying what I don’t want instead of what I do want. “I don’t want to stay up late.” When I need to say, “I want to go to bed earlier.” “Stay up late” has all sorts of wiggle room. So does “earlier” so then being even more specific will be helpful.
So with the boys, I’ve recently taken up the “sentences” as punishment. The kids respond with “NO! NO! I’ll do anything! I won’t do what I did again! I swear! OMIGAAAWD NO…. I’llwalkthedogorcleanmyroom…” but no, they do and they do it again and I yell and I stomp and I feel invisible (VERY old wound) and ineffectual (ditto) and we don’t get along.
What ho! What merry times are these when they write the desired behavior that is correct? They write it as many times as they are old plus one year and each infraction after that adds another round. Thing 2 (who is 11) has written: “I will wait until I get home to open my toy boxes” thirty-six times. He now does what is clearly expected of him. The toy boxes stay sealed until we get home. Last night, he had to write (and this took some literary engineering on my part), “I will ask for permission before having sweets.” Why? Because he asked at 10:00 last night if he could have ice cream and I said, “No. It’s late.” and he had a giant bowl of orange Jell-O instead. That one’s gonna spend some time in a courtroom I bet… I just hope it’s as a lawyer. He loves the dramatic and being persuasive. I hope he becomes a lawyer. …
Thing 3 (8) wrote “I will get in my bed at bedtime when I am told” nine times because he has a trend of playing with his noisy hard plastic shiny Legos until 12 at night. He gets it now. Will it last forever? I don’t know. He’s very young still and I have no giant expectations. Ok… rephrase: my expectations are realistic.
The trick with the positives, the affirmatives is they are much clearer. Our intention and our desires are stated up front and we have less room for wiggling. I also think that some of us are shy; we are reluctant to state what we want because we might sound aggressive. I get that too. But somewhere in the mix, there’s a perfect blend, one that lets us say what we want and actually be able to achieve it.
If you were going to write a list of what you want out of life or better yet, from yourself, what would it say?