Close your eyes and think of an animal. Any animal. Real or imaginary. Except for a pink elephant. Don’t think, “Largest land animal on Earth.” Don’t think about that curly tail linked to another elephant. Don’t think about the long trunk spraying water. Do not think about its big, floppy ears. Keep your focus on any animal. But do not think about a pink elephant.
Perhaps someone has played this little game with you. I first heard it as a young child and was completely amazed that, try as I might, an enormous pink elephant suddenly occupied my whole mind. I had never thought of a pink elephant before, but as soon as I was told not to think about it, I could think of nothing else.
Don’t For Children
When children hear our words, “don’t” vanishes. We say, “Don’t play with your food.” They hear, “Play with your food.” Even if they realize that the instruction is not to do so, suddenly, this idea becomes irresistible.
It is more helpful to say what we mean clearly. For example, “Please put your fork down after you take a bite.” Or, “Please put your hands in your lap while you are chewing.”
Changing to the Positive
Consider these options and choose those that feel good to you.
Don’t run!…………………………….. Walk please!
You’re going to fall!………………… I see that you have really good balance!
Don’t hit your sister!………………. Come here and hold my hands to help you feel better.
Don’t for Parents
Just as it is easier to say “don’t” to our children than to find a supportive angle, it is easier to recognize what we don’t want than to determine what we desire. It is helpful to notice where our focus is. “I can’t wait for this day to be over.” “This really stinks.” “More dishes. More laundry. Can’t anyone in this family pee in the toilet?”
We notice how miserable we are being tired and out-of-shape, how long it has been since we’ve had a vacation, how little money and free-time we have. We become so enmeshed noticing lack, that when asked what we do want, we are unable to answer. We forget that we can desire something.
The Gift of Contrast
Noticing what we don’t want is a step. Be grateful for the signs that show you what you don’t want, then consider: Do you want the opposite of this thing that you have? Do you want something else?
“Desire is the movement of life that carries us where we yearn to be.”
Jennifer Louden in the Life Organizer: A Woman’s Guide to a Mindful Year.
Notice what you desire. Notice what you want. Surround yourself with words and images that show the things or situations or experiences that make your heart sing. Let yourself consider the possibility that you can have what you desire and tell me about it in the comment box below.
Getting to Yes! for Children and Parents
In the lovely book, Joyful Child, Peggy Jenkins includes a number of songs for increasing joy, gratitude, and awareness. One of my favorites follows. It helps children (and parents) remember that they are in control of their lives.
What I Focus on Expands
To the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”
What I focus on expands
My life is in my own hands
My thoughts and feelings they create
So I choose a joyful state
What I focus on expands
My life is in my own hands.
Power Shot for Expanding Focus
I like to sing the above song while doing the Cross Crawl. This movement (described below) facilitates the crossover of energy between the brain’s right and left hemispheres. I will help you and your child to:
1. Feel more balanced and energized
2. Think Clearly
3. Improve coordination
Here’s how to do the Cross Crawl:
· March in place.
· Touch the right hand to the left.
· Then, touch the left hand to the right knee.
· Continue, changing sides with each step.
· You can also touch the (opposite) knee to elbow, touch the (opposite) foot behind the back.
· Continue for three minutes.