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Kids find pleasure and adventure in doing exactly what they have been told not to. Somehow the forbidden fruit has always tasted sweeter and every parent can attest to this. If you are one of the many parents who just spent 20 minutes vehemently negotiating with your three-year-old, then rest assured, you are not alone. We are talking to you mom at the playground begging for your toddler to get off the swings. And we are looking at you, poor guy at the dinner table trying desperately to convince your kid that spinach is delicious. If everything you have tried is not working—and we know you have tried it all—then maybe it is time to consider the idea of using reverse psychology on children.

At its core, using reverse psychology is encouraging kids to do one thing, when secretly you hope they will do the exact opposite. Genius. But why does it work? According to Michael V. Pantalon, Ph.D., “It works because none of us like to be told what to do, so much so, that we often do the opposite of what we’re being pressured to do simply to re-establish our freedom.”  We are not saying that using reverse psychology on children works for every parent in every situation. But when used smartly and sparingly, it can be an effective tool in getting through to your stubborn offspring. Here are 10 reasons why you should sometimes use reverse psychology on children.

  1. Your kids take well to direction

Kids are incredibly impressionable. They might not always seem like they are listening but we can promise you, they hear everything. Especially the things you wish they didn’t. Just because they don’t do what you ask does not mean they don’t understand what you want. If you can tell that your kids do understand you and they are just choosing to be stubborn, then reverse psychology might be a good method of discipline. Think of it as a clever way of getting your kids to heed your advice.

  1. They like to have a choice

From the moment they realize they have any sort of control, kids like to make their own decisions. Psychologists say autonomy is a powerful motivator. We just call it annoying. It typically starts when kids begin eating, which is a gloriously messy and frustrating process for everyone involved. Suddenly your child refuses to touch anything green or clumpy. But if you give them a choice between peas or carrots, they’ll pick one. And by giving them that independence, you’re putting the power in their hands. But since you’re providing the options, you’re still in charge.

  1. Deep down, they want to make you happy

Yes, your kids will fight your every opinion and suggestion, especially during the toddler years and dreaded teenage phase—it’s nature. But deep down they also want to make you happy and they probably know that you are right. Sadly, the terrible twos and puberty won’t allow them to simply agree with you, so they fight, and kick, and argue and negotiate. If you can give your kids a little push to steer them in the right direction (ironically but pointing them in the wrong direction and assuming they’ll go against your wishes), everyone wins.

  1. They want to be defiant

Reverse psychology on children works particularly well on those who love to go against their parents’ wishes or be uncooperative. Try dealing with their defiance by recommending two options, and then suggesting the one you’d rather not do. We are not saying it’s a sure thing, but we are willing to bet you will be hiding your grin of success when they are not looking.

  1. They are nervous about trying new things

Your kids may resist when you suggest trying something new, whether it is a food, an activity or making new friends. But consider if they are fighting just to be difficult, or they’re just nervous. Maybe all they really need is your support paired with a clever way of pushing them in the right direction. But be careful, it’s important you listen to your kids in the event that they really do have fears or problems you need to address. And you never want your gentle coercion to become an unhealthy manipulation.

  1. They’re competitive

Using reverse psychology is a great way to turn an unwanted activity into a contest. If your kids don’t want to clean up their toys turn it into a game and then challenge them to see who wins. For example, say, “I’ll bet I can clean up these toys faster than you! First one to pick up all the toys wins.” And then you better hustle, because your kids definitely will.

  1. They like to win prizes

If your child responds well to positive reinforcement then you can help guide their actions by offering prizes for good decisions. First, offer them some choices so they feel they’re making the decision. Then reward their good decision (and since both of their options are chosen by you, they basically get rewarded either way).



  1. Your child doesn’t need convincing all the time

Like any tactic for dealing with kids, if you use it too much they’ll catch on. They are smarter than you think. And when they do figure out our game, we are all screwed. So use reverse psychology on children sparingly, and every once in a while let your kids win. Remember that it’s okay if they make some mistakes on their own. That’s how they learn.

  1. They don’t overanalyze

Reverse psychology doesn’t work very well on children who overthink things. Since your subject needs to believe your intentions, if they analyze your motivation, they might see through your act.

  1. They are interested but need a little push

Call it instinct or call it wishful thinking, but sometimes a parent knows that your kids need a little push in the right direction. While they scream “NO! I DON’T WANT TO!” you hear “I want to try but I’m scared.” Assuming you are right and you really do know your child’s inner workings, then using reverse psychology might be a great way to sway their decisions and help set their actions in motion.