“You can make a child do what you want it to do by a whip or a threat. But these crude methods have sharply undesirable repercussions. … I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I find that for some strange reason fish prefer worms. So when I go fishing … I don’t bait the hook with strawberries and cream. … The only way on earth to influence the other fellow is to talk about what he wants and show him how to get it”
(Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People).
Think About the Child’s Short-Term Goals
Carnegie tells of two parents faced with the classic dilemma of a little boy who didn’t want to eat healthy foods. As long as they stuck to the generic “You’ll grow up to be big and strong,” they got nowhere. But when they told him he’d get bigger and stronger than the kid down the street who’d been giving him a hard time—he suddenly developed a taste for the foods he’d been turning up his nose at.
There may be better ways to influence children to eat healthy, but they all emphasize immediate gain the child can clearly visualize. It’s just plain silly to expect someone who hasn’t yet lived ten years to relate to such ten- or fifteen-year goals as getting into the right college or finding the right job. Think about what your child wants now and how doing the right thing will help her get that.
Whatever else they want, everyone wants to feel respected and free to choose. “Sit down and finish your homework right now” will be heard as “You haven’t any intelligence, so I, not you, will decide what needs doing when.” “Would you rather do your homework now or after dinner?” still gets across that it must be done, but allows the child the dignity (and pre-adult practice) of some say in organizing his own schedule.
Believe it or not, pleasing you does rank high among your children’s desires. But if you prove impossible to please, they’ll abandon that goal for the more achievable-looking one of pleasing themselves. So jettison the perfectionism, the fault-finding, the taking-for-granted. When the kids respond promptly and do a good job, give your heartiest thanks. When they aren’t so prompt or the job isn’t so good—thank them anyway, focusing on whatever did please you. And make a habit of watching for little things to compliment throughout the course of every day.
It doesn’t have to be an either–or choice between what you want and what your children want. With a little thought, it’s not hard to find approaches that end in mutual satisfaction. You’ll both be happier and more effective for it!