My SIL has just discovered a neat little trick that gets Gavin doing what she wants every time – well, almost. It’s called reverse psychology!
Before this discovery, my SIL had been quite annoyed and frustrated by Gavin’s hot and cold response towards her. Whenever he was being difficult, he would refuse to give her hugs and kisses. The more she wanted them, the more amusing it was to him to deny her them.
Now she says, “Don’t come near me!” And Gavin will run to her side.
When she says, “Don’t hug me!” Gavin will throw his arms around her.
Then she says, “Don’t kiss me!” Which will be followed by Gavin planting a kiss on her cheek.
I remember learning about “reverse psychology” and it’s effectiveness on kids when I was studying dentistry in Uni, but I’m afraid I can’t remember any of the examples they suggested. It’s amazing that I have studied a subject about child behaviour and development, and how to manage children in one of the worse possible settings – the dental surgery – yet still not remember enough to make use of what I learned on my own toddler. If only I had realised back then how useful it would have been for me as a parent I might have paid more attention instead of wondering how I could get out of my paediatric dentistry rotation. Yes, even back then I knew that kids could be a real handful, and I was smart enough to keep them at arm’s length whenever possible.
I have made a few attempts to use reverse psychology on Gavin but not very successfully. Perhaps I tried it when Gavin was still a little too young or perhaps I just haven’t mastered the art of doing so. However, after observing my SIL in action, there doesn’t appear to be much of an art to using reverse psychology – that is, you don’t really have to be very good at pretending at all. As an adult watching her react to Gavin, it is obvious that she doesn’t mean what she says, yet Gavin falls for it almost every time.
In “Happiest Toddler on the Block”, Harvey Karp also recommended using “reverse psychology” to get toddlers to do what you want. Karp explained how one of his child patients had promised to “poke his eyes out” when the child had come for a medical check-up. Karp deftly answered, “Well alright, just as long as you don’t poke my leg. I cannot stand my leg being poked!” For the rest of the appointment, the boy was jabbing at Karp’s leg while he examined the boy.
Deborah Carpenter offers the following on using reverse psychology on toddlers as young as two years old:
“You say “yes,” she says “no!” You say “no,” she says “yes!” This verbal tug-of-war is frustrating, but actually it’s a healthy declaration of her growing independence.
There’s even an official name for this stage. “When your child doesn’t want to wear certain clothes or taste new foods, it’s called ‘the oppositionalism of toddlerhood,'” says Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D., author of “The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting.”
The solution? If you want your child to do something, like put on her socks, pretend you don’t want her to do it.
One strategy I used to get my daughter, Kaylin, then 2, to try new foods was to deny her first few requests for them. At dinner I’d put two foods on her plate and four foods on the grown-up plates. She’d stare longingly at our full plates and say, “Me want that!” I’d reply, “Sorry, pumpkin. These foods are for grown-ups.” She’d keep asking, and as she started to get frustrated, I’d ask, “Do you really think you’re old enough?” She’d shout, “Yes!” and scoot over, holding out her plate. She couldn’t eat her broccoli fast enough.
And when I want Kevin, now 3, to get ready quickly, I pretend I’m in a big rush. “Me come, too?” he’ll ask. “No, honey, Mommy’s in a hurry today. Why don’t you stay here with Daddy instead?” My son, who always prefers an adventure to staying home, will dash off to the closet to get his shoes and jacket. When he returns, I say, “I’m not sure you can get ready in time to come with me.” That gets him to start hurriedly shoving his little arms into his jacket sleeves — and then I say, “Wow, you really can get ready quickly!” He beams with pride and allows me to finish zipping him up in record time. Say goodbye to the old capture-Kevin-and-yank-his-clothes-on-while-pinning-him-to-the-floor maneuver.
Reverse psychology works by using your toddler’s natural desire for independence (also known as defiance) to get what you both want. Just be sure to use it in a playful way — and not so often that he gets wise to you!”
It is clear that Gavin takes a lot of pride in doing the exact opposite of what you want him to do. Though I still haven’t figured out how to use reverse psychology on him yet, it is clearly a trick I ought to have up my sleeve if I hope to survive the terrible twos with my sanity in tact.