6 Psychological Hacks To Get Your Kids To Do What You Want

Mind games.

by Mark Oliver
Originally Published: 
dad and toddler cleaning bathroom
<a href="" target="_blank"> flickr / Shelly T. </a>

As a parent, a significant part of your energy goes toward trying to outwit a toddler. That’s kind of embarrassing to admit. But it’s not nearly as embarrassing as the fact that, most of the time, you probably lose. While you shouldn’t flip through up the book of Ra and chant some incantation to get your kid to behave (that’s how mummies come back to life), a few well-placed psychological tactics can trick them into following your commands. Here are 6 to put in your back pocket.

Psychic Them Out

Next time your kid thinks they’re getting away with something bad, don’t call them out on it. Not right away, anyway. Instead, pretend you didn’t see anything and look away. Then, with your back turned, announce that you know what they’re up to and describe it in detail. They will freak out and unquestioningly accept that you have psychic powers. Seriously, it’ll work — or, at least, it’ll work until they’re about 7 years old.

Why does it work? Preschoolers’ minds haven’t developed enough to fully understand that different people have different perceptions. They assume that you’re seeing and feeling the same things they are. So, when you say something like, I know you’re stuffing that Play-Doh up your nose even when I’m not looking, your kid will actually believe you.

Say “Yes, But…”

Shocker: Kids rebel against the word no. By saying it, you’re infringing on their freedom to pour spaghetti on their heads, and they won’t stand for it. No sir. But you can do is make that struggle a whole lot easier by telling them “no” without using the word “no”.

When your child says something like, Can I watch TV?, don’t say No, you have to do your homework. Instead, say Yes, but do your homework first. Per psychologists, cutting out that “no” stops kids from fighting back. Sometimes, at least. They might just fling pasta at you. Toddlers are weird.

Go Light

Child psychologists did an experiment where they put a new toy in a room and told kids that if they played with it while they were alone, they’d get in trouble. Some of the kids were given really light threats; others were given harsh ones. When researchers came back, the kids threatened harshly grabbed the toy immediately. The second they thought they could get away with it, they were all over that thing. Conversely, the kids who were lightly threatened didn’t really care about the forbidden toy. The warning was enough to keep them from touching it, but the threat didn’t occupy their minds.

So if you don’t want your kid to touch, lick, rub their butts, or scream maniacally at something, give them a light punishment. Warn them that, if they do the bad deed, they’ll only get 5 grapes instead of 6. Or something you deem mundane. Chances are, they’ll listen.

Turn It Into A Story

When you ask toddlers to brush their teeth, they’ll likely resist it. They know you’re trying to get them to do something, and they’re incredibly dedicated to their own freedom. Even if it’s for their own good, they’ll fight you on it.

But if you can bring them into the world of make-believe, they won’t notice what you’re doing. Instead of saying, “brush your teeth right now!” tell them that there’s a magical adventure and they need to brush their teeth to free the princess of the unicorns. It doesn’t have to be a story – you could sing a song or make a game out of it. As long as you’re pulling them out of reality and into the world of make-believe, it’ll stop them from fighting you on it.

Use The “But You Are Free” Technique

This one works on adults, too – and, of every trick here, it’s the most conclusively proven to work. At least 42 studies have been conducted on it, all of which suggest that it will double the chance your kid says “yes” to what you ask of them.

When you want your kid to do something, give them the chance to say “no”. Tell them what you’d like, but let them know that they’re free to do something else. For example, say, “I would like your to clean your room, but you are free to keep playing.”

It’s counter-intuitive, but kids will obey you twice as often when you give them the option not to. It’s because their freedom doesn’t feel as threatened, and so they don’t have that instinctive urge to push back.

Play Dumb

That’s right, getting your goof on is toddler gold. According to Dr. Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Toddler On The Block playing dumb “one of the most effective tools … for increasing toddler cooperation”. Why? Well, it makes your child stop seeing you as a threat or someone trying to control them and helps prevent them from transforming into tiny little rage monsters.

Next time your kid is, say, refusing to put on a coat, put yours on backward and ask, Is this right? Seeing you do something wrong makes your kid want to show you how to do it right (and probably laugh until boogers shoot out of their nose). And don’t worry about losing your child’s respect. When you play dumb, your kid doesn’t believe you really are stupid – they just appreciate the gesture.

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