Why “Don’t” Won’t Work

May 29, 2012   //   by Bhagavan Bauer   //   Simple Discipline, Simple Parenting  //  3 Comments

How often do you hear a parent telling their child “don’t touch” or “don’t do that”?

Does it work? Sometimes, but most times they keep on doing it. Why is that?

When you say “don’t”, followed by a command, the brain hears the command and thinks of the action you stated. They are looking for the action you want them to engage in. They can’t “do” a “don’t” . The command is everything after the “don’t”. So when you say, “Don’t jump on the bed”, the command they hear is, “Jump on the bed.”

For example, if I say to you, “Don’t think of a white elephant” the first thing you probably thought of was a white elephant. If I say, “Don’t look over there” you look and say, “Where?”.

There is a universal law that says what you focus on expands in your life.

When you say, “Don’t touch”, what are you focusing on, what you want or what you don’t want?

So, what do you want your child to do when you say, “Don’t touch”? My guess is you want them to keep their hands off of whatever it is they are touching.

Focus on the actions you want and use words that help to accomplish that action.

In my experience, with my kids, it is much easier to simply let them know what it is I want them to do. If I want them to not jump on the bed I say, “The bed is for sleeping upon. The trampoline or the floor is for jumping. Please stay off the bed.”

Instead of, “Don’t touch!” say, “Keep your hands to yourself!”
Instead of, “Don’t look down!” say,  “Look up or look ahead”
Instead of, “Don’t hit!” say, “Be gentle!”
You get the Idea.

Family Practice: Take a look at your life and begin to notice what you say to your kids. Write down when you tell them DON’T the most. What are the top five things you tell your kids not to do?

Now, write down what it is you really want them to do.

Practice this and you will see a big difference in your communication with your kids.


Bhagavan and his wife have two school aged boys and are Waldorf-inspired home-schoolers.  Currently living in Gainesville, FL Bhagavan is a Simplicity Parenting Group Leader and will be starting a 7 week Simplicity Parenting Group in early March.To contact him or find out more information about the upcoming SP workshops visit joyfilledparenting.com


  • I try really hard with this but often fail miserably! I think the “don’t” command is hard wired in my own brain from a lifetime of hearing it said to me!

  • I fail miserably when I have too much going on for myself. I manage to let myself off the hook when I see it from my child’s perspective. Which means a bed IS for jumping on! Its like having your own personal soft play or bouncy castle, and it’s in your own bedroom. How fantastic is that! If i let myself bounce on the bed, I’m sure I would enjoy it too. I only truly realised the consequences of bouncing on a bed when I broke a bed in a hotel room as a teenager doing just that; despite years of parental don’ts.

    Bed is for sleeping, trampoline is for jumping works well, it works better depending on my tone. What also works is filling the gaps, explaining what will happen if they carry on jumping. Letting them know why I’m making this decision. This can be interesting, especially if it is a young child, as my carefully thought through argument begins to fall apart mid sentence because it doesn’t really apply! Leaving me thinking ‘have I turned into one of those parents that keeps my kids down because I’ve forgotten how to have fun?’

    Education works better than control.

    Bhagavan I really like the simple practicality of writing the top five. The question for me then is – what is the No or Don’t doing for me?

    I’ve found Naomi Aldort’s ‘Raising our Children Raising Ourselves’ really useful on the ‘fail’ bit.

  • This is great advice, but definitely takes some practice. I have learned that saying “don’t touch that!” to my son has absolutely no effect, but if I say “hands on your tummy”, or some other clear direction, he’s quick to respond. It’s like magic!


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