“Can you not?”
If I had to pick the most repeated phrase in my family, this is it. Technically a real sentence, but vague: not what?
Nots at my house in the last 24 hours:
Flip that water bottle
Stand in front of the TV
Wear earbuds all the time
Laugh loudly at something only heard through earbuds
Slam the front door
Drop all matter of backpacks, shoes and whatever is in that plastic bag in the hallway
Chew too loudly
Scream, “Stop chewing so loudly!”
Blast the “Hamilton” soundtrack, sing and dance along while cooking supper (Followed by a “SERIOUSLY! Can you NOT?” because it seems not everyone appreciates the artistry of a middle-aged woman in an apron belting showtunes and busting hip hop moves with a spatula as a partner. (Also, I was killing it, people. “My Shot” never sounded so good.)
My pre-parent parenting plan was to run a quiet, positive household. Positive reinforcement is successful in behavior modification and creates a gentle, loving environment, right? I tried, I really did…but the Can You Nots started with me.
I began strong, but one day, mid-toddler tantrum I realized that the soft, “Honey, use your nice words. What do we say when we want something?” was getting me nowhere. I wasn’t feeling soft; I was feeling angry and frustrated. “No! You may not have that because you asked so horribly,” worked.
I quickly developed a personal issue with using the same tone to say, “I love you,” as I was using to say, “Do we stick things into the electrical outlet?” I soon realized that being firm, negative and not all lovey-dovey was more effective.
It was quicker, too.
What I still can’t decide is whether this is an example of lazy or efficient parenting. What I do know is that the fastest way to get a kid to stop before they put a lollypop they picked up from the ground in their mouth is to scream, “NO! Nasty! Don’t!”
I do know that positively and happily listing all the things a kid can be doing instead of lying around watching “Bob’s Burgers”…wait, not “Bob’s Burgers,” I like that one: “Impractical Jokers” ... takes more time than a mean, “No! Find something else to do or I will find it for you.”
“Can you not?” is a kinder compromise to screeching, “No!”
Do I sometimes go overboard and “No, no, no” all day? Yup.
Have I thrown tantrums of my own that I later needed to apologize for? Quite a bit.
Have I realized that having multiple, often contradictory parenting strategies and not being hard on myself when I pick the wrong one is OK? I have.
Do my children emulate my behavior and tone when they want to express themselves? Boy howdy, do they ever.
Does “can you not,” get us moved past the minor issue without a major fight? Very often.
My point is this:
If you have kids and sometimes screech and talk negatively, your house is just like mine. If your parenting decisions are often made by the seat of your pants, you’re just like me.
If your kids realize that you are human, make mistakes and learn from them, your family is just like mine.
But if you are a brand-new parent, read everything you can and watch families that you admire to make a parenting plan.
Try that plan several times, modify it, but be kind to yourself if you trash it and start fresh. You haven’t failed, you have successfully learned a life lesson.