Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Legend of the Pink Monkey: Tip #1

Did that post title catch your attention? Just don't think about that pink monkey right now I have something else I wanted to tell you. I've been thinking lately that I need to document our attempts at developing parenting tricks that work for our family so that, if they work, they might help someone else. The problem is that like all other parents, we are first timers. Yes, we have three kids now, but every parent is a first time parent because their kids are always doing something else for the first time and they need to learn how to deal with it. Stop thinking about that pink monkey.

So how does one go about documenting parenting tips when you are still trying to create them? I have no clue, but I'm going to try. Maybe with the combined resources of people throughout the internet, we might be able to perfect of few of these. That pink monkey is not staring at you. Stay focused. I thought that I would share my first idea with you and see what happens. This is not the most important tip or trick I think a parent needs. I am not ranking these ideas. I am just documenting them as they occur to me. The pink monkey is not playing peek-a-boo with you, ignore him.

What is this first grand idea? What could it be? You've already been introduced. It's that pink monkey that you are not supposed to be thinking about. Let me explain the legend of the pink monkey. Many years ago, a friend of mine was trying to illustrate how easy it is to distract people by giving them a vivid image that you then keep telling them not to think about. This friend is an attorney (go figure). In parenting, I am discovering the truism that kids (and big people too) get sucked into thinking about or doing things that they are told not to. I'm not talking about reverse psychology, though it is related. I'm talking about the phenomenon of hanging up a sign "wet paint, do not touch" and seeing that more people touch the object than if no sign were posted.

We have two methods of using the pink monkey concept.

1. The subtle method is to think ahead a little and give positive commands instead of knee-jerk commands. For instance: "Why don't you play peek-a-boo with the baby while I get your lunch ready" instead of "Stop telling me you're hungry, I'm working on it." The more you tell them to stop doing something the more they are thinking about that thing instead of what you would like for them to do. Giving them an idea of something good that they might like, helps them get out of their mental rut.

2. The blatant method is to pull out the pink monkey in person. Last Sunday we had a trying day and took the kids to a luncheon where they ate about an hour later than they usually do. They were in full complaining mode when we decided to start telling them to stop thinking about the pink monkey. Don't think about that pink monkey hanging from the tree. Don't think about that pink monkey with his little pink eyes blinking at you. Don't think about that pink monkey sticking out his little pink tongue at you. I think you get the idea. Without a lot of effort, we were transformed from miserable, whiny, and hungry to Mommy and Daddy are playing a funny game.

When I was a college librarian I found that when dealing with my student workers, I had to be careful about how I worded instructions to them. People don't like being told to do stuff to begin with and young adults can get a bit huffy since they are grown up now and you don't have to treat them like a child and tell them how to do everything. I found using the word "Remember" in place of "Don't forget" was very useful when wording instructions. It may seem simplistic, but telling a person to remember something is less authoritarian sounding and leaves the idea of remembering in their minds. Telling a person "Don't forget" is pretty much asking for them to forget it. "Forget" is the main verb in the sentence and it sticks in the brain. The "Don't" tacked on the front is setting them up to focus even further on the undesired outcome.

I am not a master of the pink monkey distraction techniques. In fact I've been struggling with how much I order my kids around in a negative way and don't get the results that I want. It does take a bit more brain effort on my part to think ahead and carefully word what I say to them. Lately, I've felt so swamped with life and catching up from the time I was out of commission from being in a cast that I'm doing good to stop and think what name I need to say let alone what I'm going to say to my child.

So, feel free to use the pink monkey to help you out. If you have any useful suggestions or variations that have worked for you, do share them.

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