Reverse Psychology Can Be a Great—and Cute—Parenting Tool

Nothing like asking your child not to do something to get the results you want.

Child eating a carrot with smirk on face
Photo: Getty

As parents, we wear so many different hats. We're cooks, cleaners, teachers, and psychologists, among other roles. We have to help our kids help themselves—and sometimes that requires taking an alternate route, such as reverse psychology. In other words, tell your kid to do one thing so that they do the opposite (which is what you really want).

One Redditor is finding this method perfect for their 4-year-old.

"I'm continually amazed at how well reverse psychology works on my four-year-old," u/Atmoschemist posted in the Parenting subreddit.

The parent gave some real-life examples of their daily conversations with the child. One involved the parent's approach whenever they notice the child doing the potty dance.

"Me: Hey, looks like you might need to go potty!

Child: No, I don't.

Me: Well, I need to go potty really badly, and I hope no one beats me there because I want to go first."

According to the Redditor, the child will then race to the bathroom.

Mealtimes are a trip too. When the child declares he dislikes pineapple, the original poster (OP) asks, "Can I eat yours?" The child says no and gobbles up the pineapple because, of course, he does.

"I'm honestly a little amazed it hasn't lost its effectiveness," the OP said. "How else do you employ reverse psychology on your kids?"

Several Redditors responded with examples of their own. Reverse psychology during meals was a popular topic.

"I pretend what's on his plate is something inedible from nature (green beans are branches, potatoes are rocks, salad is grass…peppers are worms), and I say 'Wait, why is that grass from the garden on your plate! Don't eat the grass! Don't do it.' (I say it with a twinkle in my eye and exaggerated facial expressions, with my hands on my cheeks panic-style). He laughs so much and watches me panic when he does eat the worms," replied the top commenter.

"I convinced my 4-year-old that dipping carrots in ranch was disgusting. He wouldn't eat his carrots, but when I mentioned dipping them in ranch would be super gross, he lost it and gobbled up his ranchy carrots while laughing maniacally," said someone else.

"My 5-year-old will eat any food that we tell him to absolutely not put ketchup on," another commenter said.

Bedtime also came up.

"At bedtime, my 4-year-old likes to 'trick' me by getting into bed. And then I make a shocked face and exclaim, 'He's so sneaky. Look at him tricking me,'" wrote one apparently well-rested caregiver.

And others teased another parenting hack.

"Wait until you hear about the five-second countdown with zero consequence at the end. It still works on my 8-year-old," said another.

Experts say reverse psychology may work for some kids. Toddlers are learning to love their independence, making them natural little contrarians. Other ways to get your children to listen include:

  • Focus first. Sometimes, you may think your child is intentionally ignoring you, but they may be hyper-focused on something, such as completing a puzzle. Connect with them by crouching down to meet them at eye level, saying their name, and making your request. Ask them if they understand what you are saying just to be sure.
  • Keep it short, sweet, and specific. There's no need to get into a long-winded explanation of the importance of being on time to school, especially if you're already running late. Simple and direct commands, like, "Get your backpack," will suffice.
  • Give them choices. Kids crave some semblance of control. Giving them two options may empower them. For example, if getting dressed in the morning is a struggle, you can pick two shirts and ask which one the child would like to wear, rather than letting them dig through their drawers.
  • Go ahead. Say it. Kids are naturally inquisitive. They may question you and love a good debate. You may not have the time for that. Every once in a while, saying, "Because I'm your parent, and I said so" will have to do.

Kids can be a challenge, but so much of it comes from a desire to gain independence and test boundaries. Finding ways to get them to listen and understand you will help them learn better listening and life skills.

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