Educating your child on matters behavioral is most certainly your job, and it really shouldn’t be delegated to anyone else. Sadly, because we are given so little training on how to be parents, this necessary activity can often be very badly done. Let’s investigate it now in the light of recent research about how the brain works.

There are ways to control or even change the behavior of your child, but there’s one way that is sure to fail – retelling your child not to do something. After that sinks in, you need to think back and calculate how many times in the past month you have said to your child, perhaps with your voice raised: “Don’t do that”.

You have certainly noticed that young children especially seem hell-bent on doing exactly what you have just – perhaps forcibly – told them not to do. The child s not being perverse, and is not trying to annoy you – though has undoubtedly succeeded in doing so. It’s just that the human brain is not geared to handle the word ‘not’. So although you have said do not do that, the child’s brain processes that as ‘do that’. So s/he dares, and gets very confused when you get angry, and sometime resorts to blows.

Actually, you have probably experienced this for yourself in your own adult life. Can you remember telling yourself to be careful not to do something – then doing it! It may be something straightforward like not spilling coffee from a cup you have overfilled – then spilling it. It may be a situation relating to your child, where you tell yourself before taking them to task over something, not to raise your voice or lose your temper. Then – hold and behold – you shout and lose your temper…

The same may well happen at work too. You remind yourself you must not forget to do something, and then you completely and utterly forget.

A very interesting recent book was written about this called Performance Intelligence. You can read about it on our companion blog The main author, who by profession is a sports psychologist, notes that there is a significant difference between playing to win and playing not to lose, which can apply to a golf ball as well as a sporting meet.