Does Reverse Psychology Work?

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Reverse psychology. We’ve all heard of it and probably know what it is, but have you actually tried it on your kids? The thing is, you try to be the best parent you can be, but sometimes life doesn’t prepare you for those unexpected moments when a parent wonders, “Uhhh, what the heck do I say?!”

The Scenario

You’ve been hearing some movement, the scurrying of little feet, emanating from your four-year-old daughter’s bedroom. How precious, you think, that your little angel is probably in there having a tea party with Mr. Bear and Polly the Dolly. Little kids are so great! Then she emerges from the doorway wearing her most elaborately constructed outfit, complete with sparkly “heels” and a mini purse holding her most prized possessions of the moment, a two dollar bill and her plastic lip gloss cell phone. “Well don’t you look cute!” you say, admiring her craftsmanship. She responds with a quiet but proud, “I’m attractive to men.” Your answer: complete silence. But inside: WHAT?! What. Did. She. Just. Say??? Had those words really just been uttered from the mouth of an innocent babe? YOUR innocent babe? Your preschooler wants to be (and thinks she is) attractive to men. What do you say in a situation like this? It may be time to invoke a little reverse psychology.

Take a minute to think.

Don’t blurt anything right away! Your mind will be racing, running through all the possible responses, but be sure not to say anything that could be accidentally offensive. For example, “Oh no you’re not!” would wipe the sweet smile off her little face in a heartbeat. Even though after a statement like the one she’s made you’ll probably want to lock her in her bedroom for the next twenty years or so, that’s not really a healthy (or legal) option for your relationship.

The Reverse Psychology Plan

You know how kids always seem to want to do the exact opposite of what you want them to? Use this to your advantage! To a kid who doesn’t want to eat his veggies at dinner, you could say, “I bet you can’t eat all your carrots!”. He’ll probably start gobbling them up. You can phrase it differently and still get the same results too. For example, saying, “I’ll put it away for you. You probably don’t know how to fit it all back in the box anyway,” is likely to have your child organizing the dress up box in order to fit everything in it.

Target your audience.

Reverse psychology is not just for little kids — people use it all the time on adults too. This is why you need to target your audience (toddler, teenager, whoever) and use the technique accordingly. For older kids and teenagers, reverse psychology can come off as strong sarcasm, which can also get the job done. Example: “Oh hun, I love that greasy hair thing you’ve been doing all week. It’s making you shine…literally!” Or, “Good grades? Not important! A woman’s purpose is to be attractive to men!” Don’t use this kind of language with the little ones — I’m guessing you can foresee the outcome. Speaking of that, reverse psychology can hurt children’s feelings or make them feel insecure if you’re not careful with it. For instance, saying, “I don’t think you are smart enough to do well on this test. Prove me wrong,” is NOT the way to motivate your child in school. Although some may like the challenge, the majority of kids will end up feeling put down.

Choose your words wisely.

Back to your four-year-old and her man-getting wiles: After review of the reverse psychology strategem, it’s probably not the best idea to use it in this particular situation at her age. Saying, “How cute! Why don’t you hike up your skirt a little bit more!” would, in her mind, essentially be giving her the go-ahead to spend the day as a mini-Paris Hilton protegé. You’ll always be safe with the go-to Mom-ism, “Really, sweetheart? That’s great!”

What Do You Think?

This is one mom’s opinion. Do you have a different one? Please share!

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