By Samantha Sacks
What parent hasn’t used reverse psychology at one time or another? After all, who wants to continually beg a four-year-old to pick up his toys or eat her dinner? Toronto mom Ali Lipson points out that while the technique might be manipulative, her son has his moments too. “Meals used to be a horror show,” says Lipson, describing a less-than-peaceful dinner hour with her three-year-old throwing snit after fit, screaming and crawling under the table — until one day, they countered a growing tantrum with a “whatever you do, don’t eat your broccoli” tactic, and hit pay dirt. Lipson says the technique works about 75 per cent of the time. But like many of us, she can’t help wondering if using this somewhat dishonest tack now won’t come back to bite her later.
WHY IT WORKS
According to social worker and educator Felicity Morris of Toronto, reverse psychology may work short-term on three- to five-year-olds, because they’re going through a developmental stage of trying to assert themselves. “The way they do this is by doing the opposite of what you’ve asked. So in the beginning, reverse psychology gives them a sense of independence and control,” says Morris.
WHY YOU’LL REGRET IT
Initially, reverse psychology may give your child a sense of assertiveness, but once she catches on, there’s a danger she’ll feel anywhere from mocked to betrayed. Ultimately, it’s a dishonest technique — kids look to their parents for the truth, and by using this tack, you’re essentially lying. “It’s a mixed message and it’s poor modelling for communication,” says Morris. “If you want to teach a child about honesty, direct communication and problem solving, this is not a good model.”
CAN I USE IT IN A PINCH?
We all use less-than-perfect parenting tactics when we’re feeling desperate and it’s hard in those crunch moments (like when a peaceful dinner is crucial to your own psychological well-being) to dismiss one that works. “Reverse psychology used on the odd occasion is not necessarily a damaging experience,” says Morris. But she adds that all of our interactions with young children contribute to teaching them how to operate in the world, and if you use reverse psychology consistently, you’re teaching them a manipulative way of functioning.
Samantha Sacks is a Toronto writer who has used reverse psychology on her three children at one time or another with varying degrees of success.
A MORE HONEST APPROACH
Whoever thought getting your kids to get dressed, brush their teeth or eat their dinner would be so complicated? Here are a few tips to help you both feel like you’re getting what you want — and need.
CHOICES What your child really wants is a sense of independence,
so why not give him one, using choices you both can live with? Letting
junior choose which vegetable to eat first or which pair of PJs to wear will give him that heady sense of control over decision-making, without destroying the dinner and bedtime hour. And best of all, you’ll be doing it from a positive point of view on the basis of trust.
INVOLVE YOUR LITTLE ONE IN THE PROCESS Helping to chop the veggies, stir the supper or set the table will give your child a sense of pride about dinner. She’ll be eating the veggies she made with the cutlery she laid out. By letting her help, you’ll be teaching your child valuable life skills while contributing to her growing need for independence.
POSITIVE ENCOURAGEMENT Asparagus may look funny — but a veggie’s poor aesthetics pale in comparison to the lure of developing Spidey’s senses or Superman’s muscles. Using your child’s strapping superhero role models to demonstrate that good nutrition is key to growth is sure to inspire an appetite in your little one.
SET BOUNDARIES THAT ARE NON-NEGOTIABLE Choices are important, but too many are scary for young children, and they need to know that some things just aren’t up for debate. Your child may choose to eat three bites of chicken instead of five, but skipping the meal for a peanut butter sandwich just isn’t an option. Teeth must still be brushed, but if they do a good enough job, mom or dad won’t have to go over them again. Allowing for positive choices inside of a jointly
understood boundary will help both of you to recognize which battles are worth fighting.