“Do as I Say, Not as I Do”: Does it Work?

“Do as I say, not as I do” is a typical parenting phrase that signals children not to copy negative behaviors they are about to witness. Some parents believe that simply telling their children what to do is enough to ensure positive development. But is that really the case?

How Children Learn

To understand how children learn, we must first look into how children absorb information.

Between the ages of 0-5, your child’s capacity for learning is at its peak. Your child is extremely sensitive to receiving and interpreting information at this stage. They can learn just about anything from anywhere.

However, studies have shown that young children learn mostly through observation. It stands to reason that if a child uses their eyes well before they begin to use their words, seeing would be the first way they interpret information.

Imitation then follows observation, where children copy the behaviors they have witnessed. In fact, children who imitate their parents’ behaviors have been shown to not only copy what they see, but also expand on them. This is evidence of concrete understanding and learning.

“Do as I Say, Not as I Do”

Does the phrase, “Do as I say, not as I do” appear to work? For effective child development, not entirely.

Communication is important with your child, but that is not the only way they should learn. In your child’s growth into their full potential, a model for good behaviors can be very important.

If you ask your child to pick up their toys after playing with them, but you leave your book out on a random table where it does not belong, your child will most likely copy you and leave their toys where it’s most convenient for them. If you regularly leave the house without eating breakfast, your child might not want to eat in the morning as well.

Sometimes, when your actions don’t align with what is said, contradictions can form in your child’s mind. Modeling one behavior and communicating the desire to carry out another causes mental tension for your child. To relieve that tension when making decisions, your child will make the choice that is easiest for them. Generally, this is the choice you don’t want your child to make.

“Do as I Do”

For the most efficient development for your children, you should try to become more mindful of what you do in front of them.

A good way to start is by writing down the behaviors you want your child to emulate. Think about how you realistically behave, then reflect on how you can adjust your own behaviors. Sometimes a behavior needs to stop, while other times it needs to be practiced more. Depending on your parenting goals, your own behaviors should serve as guidelines for your children.

Modeling desired behaviors, and still using constructive language, can make very positive and lasting impacts. Be mindful of how you behave, as your child is always learning!


How Cranium Shapes Positive Behavior

At Cranium Academy, we strive to help children reach their fullest potential through our revolutionary approach to learning that challenges them to think critically. By having our trained teachers ask them questions like “how” or “why,” children are shown a positive model for active thinking that encourages positive behavior and actions.


“No”, The Discussion on Negative Language

Keeping a positive learning environment for children at all times is a challenge, for parents and teachers alike. Children don’t have all the answers or know how to behave in every situation, and guiding them through the learning process often comes with some frustration. In these moments, it’s easy to use negative words, like the word “No”.

But is it harmful to a child’s development to use “No”? The discussion on positive vs. negative language has been around for years, and there are interesting insights from both sides on the effects of language on a child’s growth.

How language affects thought

In the early 1950’s, the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis began undergoing close scrutiny from language and psychology experts, and is still being studied today. It states that the structure and word-choice of languages affect one’s perception of the world to some degree. In short, the way one speaks affects the way one thinks.

This concept applies to all languages and to people of all ages, especially children. The capacity to learn is greatest in the early stages of childhood development. Children are most sensitive to words and their meanings, and the effects are lasting.

How this hypothesis applies to word usage with children is a hotly debated subject, which boils down to whether using certain words can either maximize development or hinder it.

Does “No” have an effect on children?

The answer is yes. “No” has as much of an effect on emotional and cognitive growth as any other word. “No” is universal across all languages and has particular influences on children’s perception of the world and themselves.

Using “No”, and other negative words, tends to be immediately impactful for children. Even in the early stages of life, infants analyze facial expressions that belong with certain sounds that their parents make. While negative language can be quite clear, it can also be emotionally compromising. Interestingly though, evidence points to the context of the situation having more of an effect than the word.

When parents are frustrated, “No” and other negative words tend to get used a lot more often.  The use of positive language with children tends to be in a more civil context, thus creating a more learning-conducive environment.

Conclusion for parents on using “No”

The word “No” is not naturally bad. If used with patience, compassion and a learning lesson in mind, “No” can be a helpful tool. However, parents who make the effort to utilize positive language more often don’t have to use “No” as much. Instead of telling their children what not to do, they ask them to do what is right, after showing them what they did was wrong.

Using positive words leads to a more positive learning environment. But if you can exercise patience with your children when teaching them, using “No” is fine. What matters most is having a safe, loving family dynamic and keeping your child’s development in mind.


What does Cranium do?

At Cranium Academy, we devote ourselves to creating a nurturing, warm environment that will help our students reach their full learning potential in the 21st century. Our teachers partner with parents to speak to each child in a way that will foster their emotional, cognitive, and social growth.