Using Reverse Psychology with Children

Most parents are familiar with the concept of using reverse psychology with children. After all, this is a form of discipline that is used very often when other methods of controlling bad or disobedient behavior in children fail. Can parents be criticized or blamed for adopting a method that is not entirely appropriate? Not really, when you consider the vast amount of difficulties they have to encounter when enforcing discipline.

Just visualize this scenario. You are exhausted from your office work, but somehow manage to reach home and prepare a nutritious meal for your child, only to have him or her reject it outright and ask for the junk food that you are trying so hard to get off his menu. After this, you try to get your child to take his nighttime shower, again to have him throw tantrums that you are just too tired to tolerate. This is not really the time when you pause to consider the correctness of your disciplinary measures and reverting to a dose of reverse psychology parenting comes very easy.

However, not many parents, including you, are aware of the implications of using reverse psychology with children. What most of us do not realize is that using this technique is an indirect way of challenging your child and his or her ability to perform a particular task. Let me give a simple example that will illustrate my point. When your child refuses to eat a plate of sandwich that you set out for him, you become frustrated and blurt out something like- "I bet that you can’t eat that sandwich in ten minutes like John (your neighbor’s child) can." You think that hurting his ego will get the desired results and to some extent, it does. The problem occurs when you start resorting to this strategy very frequently.

Some clarity as to the definition of this term is needed here, though. Motivating your child to perform certain actions should not come under the head of ‘using reverse psychology with children’. For example, if your child is exhibiting a particularly lazy streak by refusing to help you with simple household chores, you might say something like “Let us see whether you can peel these potatoes as fast as I can.” Here, you are trying to infuse an element of fun into the proceedings so that your child can effectively shake off his lethargy.

Similarly, warning your child of the dire consequences of performing rash actions should not be mistaken for reverse psychology. There are times when children get impatient to do what they want and instilling a sense of caution to prevent possible accidents is extremely necessary and you need have no qualms while doing so. All you need to be careful about is damaging the ego of your child in a bid to make him or her behave in socially accepted ways, as this is what reverse psychology is all about.

To put it blatantly, even though this might provide short term relief and satisfaction, as a long term measure, it will prove completely ineffective. Some of the possible side effects of using reverse psychology with children is that you might end up alienating your child. There are so many cases of children looking upon their parents as task-masters and exhibiting negative and rebellious streaks as a way to cope with these perceived traits in their parents. To make it even worse, your child might lose confidence in his ability to perform tasks and may end up with a low self-esteem, which is the last thing you want.

Do not panic! I am not trying to generalize here and conclude that every instance of using reverse psychology with children will lead to these kinds of horrors. All I am trying to say is that like many other tactics, this is one that you want to use with a lot of deliberation and tact. Never use this in a reactive mode, but only in a well-planned and subtle manner. Most importantly, never let every incident of recalcitrant behavior from your child lead to a camouflaged threat on your side, which is what using reverse psychology with children usually boils down to.

So, what is the best way to use this formula as a parent? Well, to begin with make sure that you try and discipline your child using the conventional techniques first. Time-outs, reasoning with your child, using logical consequences etc. should be attempted before you get down to the use of reverse psychology in parenting. This again does not mean that every time the traditional methods fail, you use reverse psychology as the last straw.
The whole point of this technique is that you use it sparingly and wisely. Make sure that your behavior is not perceived as ‘manipulative’ by your child.

By indulging in reverse psychology at the drop of a hat, you are giving out the impression of losing control with very slight provocation and letting a sense of negativity creep into the entire parenting experience. And even though parenting can be very difficult sometimes, you do not want to wallow in guilt for the personality disorders of your child in his later life, do you? Ok, so are you wondering what the best way to replace this strategy is when all other methods fail you?

Well, what you could to is to make use of another form of reverse psychology that is not at all debilitating in nature. For instance, if your young child refuses to eat as he or she is engrossed in watching television, you could signal that it is bedtime since dinnertime has been dispensed with. This will spur some positive action from your child who is yearning to have more television time on his schedule. Many children refuse food but are not at all averse to having their favorite dessert. At this point, if you could set a rule that dessert will be provided only after the actual meal, you will get better results. By doing this, you are presenting them with choices rather than attacking their sense of self-worth.

Even if your child does not accept these measures very gracefully in the initial stages, it won’t lead to any permanent harm and in due course, the understanding of why these rules are enforced will be gained. The whole idea about parenting is to be creative in your approach and come up with new ideas that do not disintegrate the beautiful parent-child relationship. At times, you as a parent can also be a bit flexible, especially when it comes to issues that are relatively negligible. By trying out different things, you can gradually get your child to cooperate in things that really matter and completely do away with using reverse psychology with children.


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