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Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle www.mn.catholic.org.au
The underlined words are the dominant
thoughts, and often the brain is primed
to act on these words, and not what
you r eally intended these words to
effect. Language is influential and we are
constantly using it for a purpose when
communicating with other s : to manipulate ,
to influence, to convey positive and
negative thoughts. So think about the
power of language the nex t time you want
to convey a message to your children.
You can also apply the ideas of dominant
thoughts and priming in many contex ts.
I'm going to be a bit cheeky here and
give you an example of communicating
with someone you really hope you don't
need to speak to often (for example an
adult). If you say "Don't hesitate to call"
the receiving per son's br ain may act on
the dominant thought which is "hesitate
to call". On the other hand, if you really
would like to hear from this per son, you
would instead say "Call me anytime".
Get the idea? Good luck in trying this
different way of influencing others !
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Human language is very
interesting. When we want
our children to stop or change
a negative behaviour, it is
common to say things like
"Stop hitting your sister" or
"Don't jump on the bed"
or "Don't r un down the driveway or you
will fall." And what do kids do with such
common negative directives? They often
do the opposite!
The language we use in trying to change
behaviour can make a big difference in the
outcome. It seems per fectly reasonable
to use the words "don't" and "stop"
in achieving change. But we as humans
(children and adults) are actually driven
by what psychologists call "dominant
thoughts". This means that we are
primed and ready to act on key words in
sentences, whether the instr uctions are
stated in the positive or negative. What
this means is that the br ain does not
par ticularly care if you say "don't" or "do";
the brain focuses attention on the words
following this and gets ready to act; this is
the idea of 'priming'.
CatholicCare's Counselling Team
Leader, registered psychologist
Tanya Russell, will address an
issue each month.
The advice provided is general
in nature and does not replace
ongoing support and advice
from your health professional.
To talk to someone about
counselling support, P 4979 1172.
Email your question to aurora@
mn.catholic.org.au or write to
Aurora-CareTalk PO Box 756
I would really like some advice on how to communicate better with my two children (aged 6
and 9). I feel I am not listened to, despite trying to teach them respect towards others. I often
tell them not to do something, but they seem to do the exact opposite! This is very frustrating
as I know they are great kids but they constantly seem to be pushing the boundaries, as if in
defiance of me.
So what does this mean for communicating in every day life ? If you would like someone to
stop doing something, don't ask them to stop doing it! You tell them what you would like
them to do instead. Let me provide some examples :
Instead of saying:
"Don't lie to me."
"Don't hit your sister."
"Don't jump on the bed."
"Stop running near the
edge of the pool."
Say this instead:
"Tell me the truth now."
"Keep your hands to yourself."
"Hop off the bed and let's find
a game to play."
"Walk slowly when you are
near the pool."
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