The Art of Reverse Psychology

Reverse psychology… one of the many great parenting tools. If you really think about it, the reason reverse psychology works is because the person on the other end of the negotiation wants nothing more than to oppose you. That’s right. The whole thing works because someone would rather do the opposite of what you’ve asked than do the original request (that they didn’t want to do).

And while I’m fully aware of all the reasons that this tactic is not forefront in all of the parenting books, let’s just entertain the notion that perhaps it’s not all that bad. Perhaps it’s the key to getting kids to do what you want them to do… perhaps.

What went down tonight at dinner time is what I like to call a reverse psychology masterpiece. You see, our little guy Beckett hates to sit at the table and eat. It’s not that he’s a picky eater, he is just easily distracted and doesn’t like to be confined to any one place. Therefore just about every night getting him to sit in his seat and finish his plate is a serious challenge. Blake is usually in charge of feeding Beckett, and after having only ate his broccoli, Beckett declared himself done. He plopped off his chair and proceeded to the toys. Some time ago, Blake introduced reverse psychology to our dinner table. It’s how we’ve gotten him to abandon the toys and return to the table. But unfortunately, it has not always resulted in him eating much of his dinner. So tonight, I grabbed his plate and decided to take it to another level. “Beckett, no more corn for you. No corn.” And then Beckett turned around and said, “Yes corn! More corn for me.” (I’m translating here… he speaks, but I’m pretty certain only Blake and I can fully understand him at this point.) And I followed, “Okay, then come here if you want corn.” And the little guy marched over to me, opened his mouth and took a bite. Impressed by the fact that it worked, I proceeded to the next thing on his plate. “Beckett, no more chicken. No more chicken for Beckett.” And Beckett whined, “Yes chicken. More chicken.” And he walked back over and took his bite.  This continued for 4 rounds of corn, chicken and mac and cheese, and the kid who was “done” nearly finished his plate. Blake and I kept chuckling to each other because we couldn’t believe it kept working, but it did. I reverse psychologied this kid into eating his dinner.

So what does this mean? Aside from the fact that I’m obviously a genius parent, it means that kids must practically come out of the womb not wanting to do what you ask. Or in this case, do the exact opposite of what you propose. It means that kids, even those who are not yet 2, want to be independent and be in charge (of some part) of their lives. Tell them to eat their chicken – “No!” Tell then not to eat their chicken – “Yes, chicken!” I’d like to say that as we mature that this silly logic becomes a thing of the past. But no. Adults still don’t like to do what someone demands of them. Tell them they shouldn’t do something, and they are compelled to try. Driven by stubbornness and the opinion that they know it all, I hate to say it, but reverse psychology would probably work on many adults I know.

But for now, I’ll just worry about my perfecting my reverse psychology skills on my little boys (and never on my husband [wink, wink]). With the success of the trial this evening, I’m looking forward to what other necessary daily routines I can manipulate them into cooperation – getting ready in the morning, breakfast, lunch, nap time, bath time, bed time. Oh my gosh, the possibilities are endless. And I suppose when they catch on to the shenanigans we’re pulling on them, I can try my hand in double reverse psychology. Oh boy, then things will get interesting around here.

DSC_0207Mom, I can’t believe you’ve been playing me with reverse psychology!!

When something goes wrong, I call you.

The other night, as I was trying to get Brogan to bed, he kept calling me for various requests.  As I tromped back up the stairs and into his room, aggravation all over my face, he said to me, “Mommy, when something goes wrong, I call you.” He gave me a hug and all of my frustration went away. I feel like I wrestle with the balance of wanting my boys to be independent, but also liking the fact that they need me.  As moms, we feed hungry bellies, bandage skinned knees, wipe runny noses, grab what’s out of their reach and try to fulfill every other random request.  We do so whether or not we are shown appreciation or thanks. But it’s nice every once in a while, especially when it comes surprisingly from my three-year-old, to be affirmed that they do in fact realize that moms get stuff done; we’re the fixers and the problem solvers.

So that was the sweet side of the equation.  Now let’s talk about the manipulation.

Knowing that moms come to the rescue, and sensing our weak spots, kids will exploit the you-know-what out of you.  My soft spot is hunger.  I never starved growing up, but for some reason the thought of my children being hungry is something that does not sit well with my soul.  This drives my husband crazy. He can see that sometimes (notice I just can’t give him all the time) Brogan takes advantage of this fact and tries to prolong naps and bedtime by telling me he’s hungry.  Here’s the thing, statistically speaking, I know there are times when he’s pulling one over on me and he’s not really hungry.  I do truly believe, however, that there are other times when he is, in fact, hungry.  The problem I have is that my overwhelming fear of starving my kids clouds my vision and I can’t tell when it’s real and when he’s faking it.  So what happen? 98% of the time I give that little slickster some food.  I really wish it ended with the food.  In the 20 minutes that I’ve been typing this post, in addition to the “I’m hungry” episode, I’ve been called on to turn off his fan because it was shaking. “Mommy, come quick, it’s an emergency! My fan won’t stop shaking!” And while I was up there, “Please turn off the bathroom light.” Oh, and, I need some medicine because my legs are hurting (eczema). And once I returned back downstairs to continue my writing, he declared that he wanted more milk.  On the simple fact that I don’t feel like cleaning up a wet bed in the morning, I said no.  But dammit, I said yes to the rest.  Oh, and I forgot to mention that while I was cuddling with him in bed, he asked me to read him a story. I explained that I had just (downstairs) read him three stories, and that was enough for the night.  He then reminded me that Daniel Tiger says, “It’s almost time to stop, so choose one more thing to do.” And then that, “so mommy, you said it’s time to stop and so I get one more thing, and that means one more story.” You know that feeling, when your three-year-old beats you at your own game (if you only knew how many times I’ve used Daniel Tiger to get him to do things), yeah that sucks.  So another book it was.

And I sit here knowing that I was worked over multiple times tonight.  And I wonder how and if I will react differently tomorrow when I’m faced with this recurring dilemma.  Honestly, I’m torn.  Logically I know that no should mean no and lines need to be drawn, but emotionally, being met with a “mommy, I love you” each time I oblige makes it really hard to refuse.  My husband, by the way, is going to love this post.  He rarely gets me to admit that I’m a softy (I really try to hide it). Well honey, you’re welcome, I’m a softy.  But the kids still aren’t going to bed hungry 🙂


We Speak Opposites in My House

This may be a shocker, but our three-year-old doesn’t like to do what we say.  It’s not just that he doesn’t like what we have to say, or that he doesn’t want to do what we ask of him, the simple fact that it came out of our mouths makes it utterly unappealing.  We’ve been observing this behavior pattern for a while.  When it first started and was still “cute” we would mess with him and tell him not to do things that we really wanted to do.  After a couple rounds of “don’t you play Joe Diffy!” to get him to sing and play his guitar in front of a crowd, my husband and I thought that this was not an act we wanted to encourage.  So we backed away from the blatant oppositional requests.  But then slowly, and unintentionally, we started agreeing with him on things that he suggested, and guess what… he no longer liked his own ideas! It was like our blessing on an idea was the kiss of death for him, like if mom and dad think this is a good idea, it must be no fun!

As most parents know, getting kids up and out the door in the morning can be a challenge.  Some mornings, they just flat refuse to go.  So my husband and I began agreeing when he starts up.  The exchange goes something like this: Brogan says, “I don’t want to go!” we say, “Ok, then we’ll leave and you can stay here” [slowly walking toward the door] Brogan, “Nooooo!!!”  Even something as minor as his snack selection: Brogan, “I want a cookie!” Me, “Great, a cookie sounds good!” Brogan, “No, maybe a banana.”  Oh, the mind of a three-year-old.

So we’re trying to manipulate the manipulator without him thinking it’s a game.  In some ways I’m trying to give him the independence to make his own decisions, all the while guiding him to make the decisions I think are best.  Is this wrong?? Is this what all parents have been doing since the beginning of time, and I’m only now catching on??  As this technique has gained success, I’ve been testing it in scenarios that used to be very trying and it has worked like a charm.  At bath time, Brogan tells me he doesn’t want to get out.  So what do I do, I take Beckett out, dry him, dress him and tell Brogan he can stay.  And what does Brogan do? Change his mind, pretty much instantly.  It’s like when he realizes I’m not going to fight him on it, it has lost all of its fun and he might as well comply, because, let’s be real, the bath water is getting cold and he no longer has anyone to play with. “Mommy, I want out too!!”

I can’t decide if our plan is pure genius, or if we’re only days away from it blowing up in our face.  One thing I’ve learned from having kids is that just as soon as you’ve settled into a routine, or think you’ve got them mastered, boom! They turn it upside down just to see if you can walk on the ceiling.  So I guess we should get ready for the day when he outsmarts us, turns the table and calls our bluff.  And then it will be back to the drawing board with the rest of the parent population.

Upside down Brogan