Getting past “no” with a game

I’m in awe of those parents and teachers who manage and motivate kids at the same time — the ones who have them scrubbing the floors and loving every minute of it because they somehow make it fun. Am I the only one who’s too tired to think of yet another way to make chores fun? I like to think I’m a pretty mellow mom, and that I have a decent sense of humor. But when it comes to getting the kids to do stuff, I want them just to do it because I say so. Sometimes, thinking about it more creatively than that is one detail more than I want to manage.

I’m obviously shooting myself in the foot on this one, because we’d all have more fun if we were playing rather than arguing. I really like Regina from Maryland’s take on this:

Reading about the reverse psychology hack got me thinking about using what motivates each child. My oldest daughter who is super-competitive can’t pass up on any sort of competition. “Go get dressed, please.” “No, I don’t want to.” “It’s a race to see which one of us gets dressed first. Ready, set, go!” If I can start the race before she has time to object, she simply cannot resist the urge to compete. This one doesn’t work for my youngest daughter, but for whatever reason, she can’t resist a conga line. So, whenever she’s in the mood to run in the opposite direction from a bath, getting dressed, etc., we simply start singing our conga line music and doing the conga line dance (two sideways steps and two forward steps) and again, like a magnet, she just can’t resist. The beauty is that it changes the dynamics from what could have been a battle to a much more enjoyable experience.

Related: Play BAM! to get the kids to clean up quick (and have fun doing it)


  1. harmzie says

    I like this one. The reverse psychology – while frighteningly effective – was sitting wrong with me. I don’t want my son (& didn’t want my daughters, who are now on to these kinds of tricks!) to get confused about when I’m getting him to *do* something (“you *cannot* finish your potatoes”) and when I mean it (“you *cannot* chase your sister with a flamethrower”).

    Another competetive application is along the lines of “you don’t want your supper? OK! I’ll eat it!”… “NOOOOOOO!” (swish)

  2. Uly says

    I do that all the time. If I want to go somewhere fast, it’s “I’m gonna get there first!” The kids chase on ahead, while I amble along behind and whine that I lost.

    People have laughed, saying “You won’t win walking like that”, but I do win. I just win at life.

  3. beau says

    i shy away from the reverse psychology for many of the same reasons – don’t want to be mis-understood – i prefer to let my five year old son know that he has consistency, if i say something in a joking manner i take it to extremes so he knows that i am joking, otherwise he knows to listen to whatever i ask (i.e. ‘don’t get out of the car yet, wait for me to open it for you so you don’t bump the other cars’)
    it takes more patience and occasionally time to explain the reasoning for your request – but the rewards are more long term from then understanding rather than following of rules
    as a side note i like the race thing for dressing and getting to places – i’ve done the same thing but made sure to keep it fun by occasionally winning if he was in a playful enough mood to accept losing or me losing by a little, there was the occasional day that he got upset at losing but it brings home the fact that he will not ALWAYS win – too many these days forgot the age old axiom “it isn’t whether you win or lose, but how you play the game”
    and on the days you do let them win be sure to give them encouragement along the lines of ‘wow you are fast, you beat daddy, but i’m going to win tomorrow!’ I have only won two or three times but he still races me for many places we go and in a few years i might be able to win (another good reason for him to know any request i make should be complied with – ‘stop where you are and wait for daddy to cross the street/parking lot’), now i need to restrain his enthusiasm or find more ways to drain his energy without spending too much of mine

  4. beau says

    that was supposed to read ‘… in a few years i might *not* be able to win’
    also excellent link Dr. Matt Gomes my sentiments exactly, i was worried about the terrible twos and the nonstop ‘no’s. Take the time costly and none too easy road of explaining the reasons for ones request along with avoiding/restricting the use of the word ‘no’ – unfortunately you cannot control what his daycare/teacher/others he comes into contact with are going to say to him thus it takes even more diligence and consistency

  5. says

    This made me laugh. Reverse psychology doesn’t work with my two year old, but the types of tricks mentioned above are always a hit. The only problem is figuring out what will motivate him TODAY. For a few weeks, he couldn’t resist a parade. No matter how much he hated naptime, if I started marching, he was compelled to join in. For awhile, we did the racing thing. Sometimes we stomp and growl like bears. It keeps me on my toys, but it’s worth avoiding the mighty tantrum I get otherwise!

  6. says

    I know what you all mean when the psychology fails! My parents tell me that at bedtime, they would ask my sister and me “would you like to go to bed now, or in 5 minutes?” and we would jump all over the “5 minutes!!!”

    I’ve try this with *my* kids, 3 and 5 years, and they just look at me and say, “I told you I don’t want to go!!” Why did it work in the ’70s and not in the oughts?

  7. linda says

    i also use this strategy for getting my three year old to use the potty when he doesn’t really need to go (but i want him to try). rather than argue over whether or not he needs to go, i just take him to the potty and ask him “do you want to go first, or can i?” then i make a big deal over getting to go first (yay! i get to go first! whew, i’m so glad!) or not (aww man, i wanted to go first! that’s not fair, you always go first!). he usually decides to go first and tells me, “maybe you can go first next time, mom.” his dad and i also sometimes “argue” over whose turn it is to brush his teeth, which he loves.

  8. erin says

    The “no’s” started at about 16 months for our now two year old. When she gets into a serious “no” groove, we’ll break out into a refrain of the “no no no” song (sung to the tune of “Jingle Bells”). She’ll sing along for a while and then start giggling. It’ll usually get her out of her “no” funk…