How to manipulate your kid to do the right thing

If I actually knew how to manipulate your kid to do the right thing, I’d write a book. You’d buy it. I’d make a million dollars and retire from life.

In the meantime, daycare gave me a reading assignment.


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The miracle workers over at daycare know how to manipulate my kid into doing all kinds of things. (How about eating hummus for lunch? How about walking in a line with your mouth shut? How about taking a nap?) To do this, they practice conscious discipline. Don’t worry – I don’t know what that means either. So they told me to read, Dr. Becky Bailey’s book, Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline.

This book is a game changer. She tells you to STOP PUNISHING YOUR KID.

What? Really?!

What about when my kid finds a black sharpie marker and writes all over my fabulous red leather sofa, the kitchen cabinets, the white walls in the hall, and my darling throw pillows? (Praise Baby Jesus for Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser that took it off the walls. Praise Baby Jesus for plain ole, boring, white toothpaste that took it off the kitchen cabinets. Praise Baby Jesus for rubbing alcohol that took it off the throw pillows. Praise Baby Jesus for strategically-placed quilts to cover up the sofa…Yep, the sofa is still sporting its wounds from the great sharpie battle of 2017.)


I love how Parents magazine describes this:

These days, experts encourage us to let our kids experience what they call the natural consequences of their actions…If your child refuses to wear his jacket, just let him be cold — and he probably won’t put up a fight the next time.

Logical consequences entail more adult involvement, but they’re also connected to the misbehavior:

If your child runs out into the middle of the street, he must hold your hand for the rest of your walk. It’s this connection that helps your child understand and learn from the repercussions of his actions.

Now back to the sharpie war. Here are the natural consequences I decided to try:
1. You must color in mommy’s presence. On paper. (Because mommy
2. You must help mommy clean up. As in, if you make a mess, you clean it up.

Help-mommy-clean-up only lasted 5 minutes. Because we mommas all know that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. But the 2.5-year-old has been playing “let’s clean the cabinets” with a red block-as-sponge ever since.

Huh, it made an impression. And maybe since I didn’t spank him, which would have also made an impression, he got to learn a few things. Because, Bailey says, spanking hurts (duh) and your brain is so busy defending you from pain that you can’t process anything else. You can’t learn a lesson if your brain is distracted and under threat. Flight or fight, anyone?

Who else grew up in the 70’s when spanking was all the rage? There were switches, belts, hair brushes, hands, paddles… I remember the last time I got a spanking. No clue why I deserved it. (Maybe I drew on the rad mustard yellow sofa with a sharpie.) But I do remember I was DETERMINED not to cry. And I didn’t.

I was super proud of myself. I’d learned to overcome pain. Like a yogi-master. All mind over body. I was INVINCIBLE. And the adults in my life noticed this. That they’d dropped a rung or two on the power scale. Suddenly, spanking was off the list of “reliable punishments.”

See what happened there? I definitely didn’t learn the lesson the adults were going for. Instead, I DISCOVERED POWER. It was MAGNIFICENT.

Now, it’s my turn to be the adult. And I’m trying a new approach.

This anti-punishment thing feels a little hokey. But occasionally I’m amazed that it works. Like I’ve cracked the code and figured out how to manipulate my kid into doing the right thing.

I have an early riser. You can read about my various attempts to sequester him in his room til a decent morning hour – in this other post. Lately, I’ve worked the natural consequences angle to handle this ass-crack-of-dawn situation.

Child wakes at 5:45am (like normal.) Child yells about bears (like normal.) Child beats on wall (like normal.) Child pisses me off (like normal.) Child wakes up little brother (DAMN IT.)

I storm out of bed, march down the hall and fling open child’s bedroom door. I strike a power pose and stare him in the face. He knows I mean business. Then I do something odd.

Instead of my normal morning whisper-screaming at him to stop actual-screaming in his room, I calmly say, “You know the rules. You can play quietly in your room in the morning til everyone wakes up. But this morning, you yelled. A lot. And woke up your little brother. That’s not fair. He needs sleep. This is a family and we work together to take care of each other. It’s called teamwork. We all help make sure everyone gets the sleep our bodies need.”

He stares at me like I’ve lost my mind. But he’s stopped yelling.

I go on: “Your best friend’s mommy told me he wants to go to the park with you today. That would be fun, right? I know how much you love to play with him.”

I’ve definitely got his attention now.


“I don’t know if we’ll get to go. Because your brother might need an extra long nap today to get all his sleep. Because you woke him up. We might not have any time to go to the park with your friend.”

In the back of my mind, I’m wondering if this is a little too old-school passive aggressive, but, y’all, it’s true! If little brother doesn’t get his sleep at night, little brother is gonna get his sleep at day. And that might mean NO PLAYDATE.

You know what actually happened that day? Big brother took a nap! This dude NEVER takes a nap. And he slept right through the playdate.

Baby Jesus was smiling on me that day. I got the natural consequences award of the whole frikkin’ year.

This child has been quiet every morning since. And he’s so proud when little brother sleeps til 7am. Because he’s helped do his part to care for the family.

And I’m so proud OF ME! For learning how to manipulate my kid to do the right thing. At least this week anyway. (Maybe there’s a book deal in my future after all.)

Share your kid-friendly manipulation techniques below or on Facebook at MothersRest.

Photo credit: Leo Rivas-Micoud from

Super flattered to share that Jessica over at the blog, Playdates & Prosecco shared this post with all her fans. Let’s keep spreading the message: How to manipulate your kid to do the right thing.

AND I’m loving these tips mommas shared on Facebook.

I wholeheartedly agree with this approach. We just taught my 3.5yo the meaning of the word “consequence” and it really stuck with him. I really like the idea of natural consequences, but I also think good old fashioned consequences (you did something bad, therefore no dessert) work really well starting at this age, too.

The other day, he threw something at his baby brother. Husband freaked out and older one freaked out and started screaming apologies. Yelling and forcefully removing him from the situation seems to make him feel victimized, which I think makes it harder for him to reflect on his actions and feel sorry for what he did (too busy feeling sorry that we were “mean” to him!!) But when I calmly sat him down and said, “I know that might have been an accident. But because you weren’t being more careful, there is a consequence. That consequence is no treat after dinner.” To my utter SHOCK he understood and didn’t put up a fight – even 3 hours later when the consequence actually came into play!
–Jada, mom of two little guys

When my kids make messes I always make them clean it up. I’m having difficulty with dealing with the temper tantrums. But I’ve found explaining and giving them options help them. A consistent option is always to go to his room for a breather.
–Lorayah, mom of two littles

Interesting! I found similar advice in The Irreducible Needs of Children by T. Berry Brazelton Stanley Greenspan.

I practice consequences with my girl sometimes – for example if I ask her three times to take her blankie with her into the car but she doesn’t listen, then cries in the car for her blankie, I say, “Oh well! I asked you to pick it up and take it with you and you didn’t listen!” Stuff like that. But if she kicks me after I say stop or something more serious safety-wise, then I use time outs. However time outs seem to really deter her, which I know doesn’t deter many toddlers.
–Patricia, toddler girl mom

I’m reading (haven’t opened it yet b/c Facebook eats my soul) Making The Terrible Twos Terrific by John Rosemond! Hoping for some Jedi mind tricks!
–Nikki, mother of two

You’re doing it mom! CD works. Good for you.
–Sandy Johnson, daycare administrator

Do you do house calls?
–Melanie, mom of two teen boys

You’re a genius! Impressive!
–Jill Lalk Ford

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