Harnessing Reverse Psychology: Effective Parenting Approach


As parents, most of us have used a combination of methods to get our children to understand, listen, and do things. Reverse psychology definitely makes it to the top ten list. So, what is reverse psychology exactly? It is an influence tactic that involves recommending a behaviour that is opposite to the desired one. Tell your kid not to do one thing so that they choose to do exactly the opposite – which is what you actually want them to do. Let us understand what reverse psychology is with a few examples. There have been many experiments to study the effect of reverse psychology. In one such experiment, toddlers were given some toys to play with. After a while, they were told that one particular toy was off-limits. Suddenly, every kid wanted to play with that toy only! In a similar experiment where a group of teenagers was given some images to work with. Right after distributing these images, they were told that they could not use one particular image – resulting in everyone wanting to use it. These are called reverse psychology tricks. Such reverse psychology tricks are also used by advertisers to make their products more alluring for kids.

Parenting approach towards reverse psychology: Parents often use this technique to get their children to do what they want. Children, from a very young age, love their independence. They often do the opposite of what is told to get the satisfaction of doing what they want – a way to express their independence. This behaviour is used by parents in their favour by applying reverse psychology. Sometimes, parents are not even aware that they are using this method. Telling your toddler not to pick up his toys after playtime to get him clean the room is a subtle form of reverse psychology. Its applications are many – getting them ready for an event, making them eat food, doing the homework, or cleaning up after themselves – the list is unending.

There are different ways in which the desired outcome can be achieved by using reverse psychology:

  1. Belittle or play down the desired habit: For example, if you want your child to eat green vegetables and salads, you can say that eating them with a particular dressing or sauce tastes disgusting and you wouldn’t eat them. Chances are that your little one will gobble his food within no time.
  2. Discouraging the desired habit by saying not to do it: Telling your child not to use the washroom just before bedtime may push him to do that.
  3. Saying that the child would not be able to do a desired task: If you tell your kid that you doubt if he or she would be able to finish their lunch in time, they might do so to prove you wrong.
  4. Comparing the desired habit adversely with something else: Say that doing homework before playtime is so boring than the other way round and see your child pick his books and complete the work.

But these parenting techniques may not work every time and on everything. It is vital to know the efficacy of this strategy and where to use it effectively. Using it repeatedly might not get you the desired results. Furthermore, there are many disadvantages to this strategy. The child may feel manipulated if and when he understands what was done. They might lose their trust in you and the repercussions can be dangerous. This technique might not be a good choice for a child who has low self-confidence. Such kids rely more on their parents for better judgement and this trick may backfire. Use this tactic occasionally and understand when to use it best. Be ready to accept the consequences if it fails. Do not forget to remind your kid that they do have a choice. It might not work on children who usually are not rebellious.

Here are some positive parenting tips that can be used to make a child understand better:

  1. Understand why the child is saying no to you. Perhaps, they are focused on doing something at that time and do not want to leave the task in between. Connect with them and tell them what you want them to do. Ascertain that they understood you. 
  2. Be polite and specific: Every time a long explanation about the importance of doing things is not required. Sometimes, simple and polite commands such as “Get your stuff” when you are late would be sufficient.
  3. Remind them about the choices: Give your little ones the power of choosing. When they are presented with options they feel empowered. The joy of choosing makes them feel in charge of the situation.
  4. Be patient: Many times children like to argue for the sake of it. Try and understand when they are doing so and engage in a healthy debate. Putting forth your arguments in a patient, positive way may appeal to your child. They would learn to argue healthily is an added advantage.

We hope that the reverse psychology tricks and the positive parenting tips gave you enough food for thought. Yes, handling kids can be challenging at times but understand that these little beings are in the process of understanding things and themselves at the same time. Please remember they are juggling between finding their independence and conforming to boundaries.

For more such parenting tips and positive ways to handle your kids explore more on EuroKids.