How To Get Your Kids To Do What You Want Them To...Without Asking!

Updated: Jun 14, 2019

By Dr. Sarah Haas *





Imagine this scenario: You came home from a long day of work, you're tired, and perhaps counting down the minutes until your kiddo goes to bed. Then you ask your child if they have done their homework, which perhaps starts like this:


Parent: "Hey, Buddy. We've had a fun day. Now go up and brush your teeth so we can get ready for bed."

Child, whining: "But whhhhhhhhhy?! I don't waaaaaaaant tooooooooo!"

Parent: "Buddy, go."

Child: "No."

Parent: "But I'm not asking you. Now GO and BRUSH your teeth."

Child: "I'M NOT GOING TO BRUSH MY TEETH! I DON'T NEED TO BRUSH MY TEETH -- I JUST DID IT THIS MORNING! STOP TELLING ME WHAT TO DO!"


At this point, I would hedge my bets that you and your child are both frustrated. You are frustrated because your child won't do a simple task, one they do every night, that you've told them to do multiple times, and they are frustrated because your child wants to keep playing and doing what they want to do. This, my friends, is how we get into a standoff with our kiddos.


So how can you get your child to do what you want them to do, with minimum frustration? Easy peasy (not! But....here are some tricks to try!):


Make it a Competition

So here is the scenario reenactment, using this technique.


Parent: "Hey, Buddy. We've had a fun day. Now go up and brush your teeth so we can get ready for bed."

Child, whining: "But whhhhhhhhhy?! I don't waaaaaaaant tooooooooo!"

Parent: "Buddy, go."

Child: "No."

Parent, doing a total 180 here: "I bet I can beat you into the bathroom first!!!"

Child: "Nuh-uh!" *starts racing up the stairs to the bathroom*

Parent, thinking to self: Parenting. Win.


Yes! This technique can be immensely helpful and can work out like this! I think the hardest part is for the frustrated parent to try this relatively fun scenario when they themselves may be frustrated or tired. You can pose a competition between you and your child, or between siblings. Think of the endless possibilities..."Who's going to get their seatbelt on first?" "Who can eat their first vegetable?" "Who is going to sit at the dinner table first?" "I bet I can change out of my pajamas quicker than you can!" "I bet I can clean up more toys than you can!" The key is to make the activity fun and engaging.


Use If/Then Contingencies

So here is the scenario reenactment, using this technique.


Parent: "Hey, Buddy. We've had a fun day. Now go up and brush your teeth so we can get ready for bed."

Child, whining: "But whhhhhhhhhy?! I don't waaaaaaaant tooooooooo!"

Parent: "Buddy, go."

Child: "No."

Parent: "OK. If you brush your teeth now, then you can stay awake an extra 15 minutes."

Child: "YES!!"

Parent, thinking to self: YES!


There are a couple of important pieces at work with this technique. First, you need to have something that motivates your child for the "then" portion of this technique. That is, if you tell your child they can stay up 15 minutes longer, but they don't care about staying up longer, this likely won't work. Think about it this way: if your boss says s/he will give you $.01 commission on every item you sell, that might not motivate you to work any harder. Your boss says s/he will give you $100 commission on every item you sell, you're likely to drink some coffee, come in early, and be more assertive to customers than usual! Think of your child's behavior in the same way: the more motivated they are for the "reward", the more motivated they are to complete the task.


Here's another important thing to consider before using this technique: You cannot use this technique if you are not OK with your child not doing the behavior. Saying this differently, you need to be OK with your child not doing the "if" part of the statement.


Have Them Choose Between Two Options

If your child typically responds better when they have more control over what they do or when they do it, why not give them some of the control? Here's a continuation of this example:


What Parent wants to say: "Hey, Buddy. We've had a fun day. Now go up and brush your teeth so we can get ready for bed."

But parent feels the rest of the interaction will go like this: Child, whining: "But whhhhhhhhhy?! I don't waaaaaaaant tooooooooo!"

Parent: "Buddy, go."

Child: "No."

So instead, Parent says: "Alright bud. Do you want to brush before or after you get into your pajamas?

Child: "After!"

Parent: "Awesome! So I'll go upstairs with you to help you with your pajamas, and you can brush your teeth after that!


Use Environmentally-Imposed Consequences

This is otherwise known as logic or natural consequences. Scenario reenactment, Take 4:


Parent: "Hey, Buddy. We've had a fun day. Now go up and brush your teeth so we can get ready for bed."

Child, whining: "But whhhhhhhhhy?! I don't waaaaaaaant tooooooooo!"

Parent: "Buddy, go."

Child: "No."

Parent: "Wait--can you remind me why we brush our teeth?"

Child: "Because the food we eat gets stuck in there and we want to get that OUT!"

Parent: "You're right. Oh, and that stuff that gets REALLY stuck in there--chocolate, candy, caramel, marshmallows, gummy bears, and all of those yummy snacks. So that means if you're not going to brush your teeth...you can't eat the stuff that gets stuck in there. Oh, that really stinks."

Child: "What?? But I love candy! Can I have candy if I brush my teeth?"


Bingo. Natural or logical consequences are negative consequences that are inherent to that task. If we don't brush our teeth we have bad breath, people don't want to get close to us, we have huge dentists bills, and we may have to get teeth removed--ouch! Although YOUR biggest negative consequence may be the physical pain or the financial burden, these consequences do not happen immediately (as in the physical pain) nor do they impact your child (my guess is your child isn't the one who is paying for their dental work). So although you may want to say, "OK, well you'll lose all your teeth and you'll have to pay a lot of money to the dentist if you don't brush", your kid's brain processes this as, "soooo...does that mean I don't have to brush my teeth tonight and instead I can keep playing my game??!!!" because those consequences are not directly relevant to them. Finding an immediate consequence that is important to your child is crucial here. Yes, this gives you permission to channel your inner 5-year-old.


Some good situations to use this one in include, you can't have dessert if you don't eat your veggies, we can't go to the mall if you don't finish your homework, you can't stay up late if you are complaining since the complaining signals to me that you are tired, you can't have your friend come over in 1 hour if you don't finish your chores, you can't play outside until your homework/chores are done.


Create a Common Goal

Do you find yourself using the same command over and over again? For example, "Stop hitting your brother!" Or in continuing with the above scenario, none of your children are interested in brushing their teeth at night. How about setting up a common goal contingency using something like a marble jar?


Parent: "Hey, Buddy. We've had a fun day. Now go up and brush your teeth so we can get ready for bed."

Child, whining: "But whhhhhhhhhy?! I don't waaaaaaaant tooooooooo!"

Parent: "Buddy, go."

Child: "No."

Parent: "Oh...that's right. If you and your brother don't brush your teeth, we won't get another marble in the jar. What happens when we get 5 marbles in the jar again?"

Child: "We go to out for a pizza party!"

Parent: "Oh! That's right! I can't wait until we get to do that!"

Child: *tapping brother* "Hey, let's go brush our teeth!"


Whaaat! Parenting achievement unlocked: 2 for 1! Like the techniques above, there are certain things that can make this technique effective and other things that can make it less effective. Try it, and see if you can get it to work for you!


Help Them Complete the Task

Ever have a task or a job you really don't want to do, but a friend or a colleague says, "I'll help you!", which makes you feel even just a little more motivated to do it? Your kid may feel the same way. See below for how to use this one:


Parent: "Hey, Buddy. We've had a fun day. Now go up and brush your teeth so we can get ready for bed."

Child, whining: "But whhhhhhhhhy?! I don't waaaaaaaant tooooooooo!"

Parent: "Buddy, go."

Child: "No."

Parent: I'll help you buddy! It gives me a chance to spend more time with you, which I love! *carries child up the stairs* *places toothpaste on toothbrush* *hands toothbrush to child*


This one does place a little more work on the parent, but if your ultimate goal is to have your child brush their teeth, and you anticipate that straight commands or directions to go brush their teeth will not get you to accomplish that goal, maybe it's worth it to put in a little more work to get the outcome you want!


All of these techniques help you get things done without having to tell your child directly what to do (see this post for why it may not be a good idea to provide too many directives or commands to our child).


Have you tried any other techniques that have worked for you? Please share so the community can glean some insight from your awesome parenting!


Disclaimer: The Information provided through this website, including the various pages, blog posts, and emails, are designed for informational purposes only and does not constitute a client/therapist relationship. The information is not intended to replace medical advice or mental health treatment. Every individual person's situation is unique. Please seek out individual care if needed.

Recent Posts

See All

By Dr. Sarah Haas * "I wish my child came with a manual!" Let's pretend that as your child is developing from zygote, to embryo, to fetus, that a tailor-made manual was also written for you, specializ