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Rebecca S. February 24, 2020
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“To Do” or “Not to Do”, That Is the Question

“Don’t stay up late playing video games.” 

“Don’t cram for your test.”

“Don’t be distracted while working.” 

These are all things we may have said to students at some point. They are meant to be friendly reminders, but phrasing suggestions with a literal negative “not” can be more harmful than helpful. 

The biggest issue with telling someone what NOT to do is that it’s not actually constructive. Students can be told what NOT to do over and over again, but they will only succeed when someone tells them what to do instead! 

Next time you want to guide your student’s behavior, try to use positive language that will encourage them to do the right thing. It may take more effort, but you’ll notice that framing suggestions without the “not” will create a more nurturing atmosphere and generate instructions that your listener can act on immediately: 

“Please do some relaxing and then go to bed before 12.” 

“Let’s start studying for your test today rather than wait till the last minute.”

“I think turning your phone off will help you finish your work faster!” 



Photo by Chase Clark on Unsplash

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