Recently while I was upstairs at the computer, 2-year-old Emma breezed past me with a magic marker in her hand. She loves getting hold of anything that writes, and I knew that left to her own devices she would add an artistic touch to the furniture, bedding and any papers within reach. Trying to head off the destruction, I told her "no, no" and sent her back downstairs to the kitchen table where we do art projects. She smiled happily and headed back down. I was so pleased that she obeyed me!
When I went downstairs a little while later, I couldn't believe my eyes. It looked like Emma had drawn her way back down the stairs. Her scribbles covered the wall by the staircase, and nearly every step bore her signature.
As I stood dumbfounded at the bottom of the stairs, Emma toddled over. She flashed me a big smile, and I realized she thought I was admiring her artwork. I wondered why she looked so proud of herself, until suddenly my words came flying back to me. I realized that in her mind, she had followed my instructions to the letter: "No, no, Emma. You can't bring markers up here. Take them back to the kitchen. We only write downstairs. That's a good girl. Write downstairs."
In her mind: "Blah, blah, blah ... Write down stairs, Emma. That's a good girl. Write down stairs."