A Parenting Trick that Works

The Magic Phrase That Will Get Your Kids To Do Anything

A Parenting Trick that Works

In the early seventies, I was training to become an early childhood educator. My training included practicums in different preschool settings.

I was very fortunate in having an excellent sponsor teacher on one of my practicums whose wisdom has stayed with me since. She taught me a very simple but magical phrase.

I remember one day all the kids were going out to play and it was a wet, rainy day. The teacher asked that they all put their boots on. I was in charge of a small group and one of the little girls in my group refused to put on her boots. "Please put your boots on", I said to her. She ignored me. "Nicki, its time to put your boots on", I repeated. She ignored me again.

Just then the teacher walked by and I told her I wasn't able to get little Nicki to put her boots on. "Nicki, as soon as you've got your boots on I'll know you're ready to play outside" she said.

In no time flat the boots were on and off she went to play outside. I was amazed that the same request I was making, worded differently, got immediate results. I've never forgotten the effectiveness of that short, simple phrase.

Why did the teachers approach work and mind didn't? Children - like the rest of us - want to feel empowered. If we ask them to do something, they'll either refuse or procrastinate and dawdle. They're simply exercising power and control. This simple way of wording a request, gives them some power yet the request is still the same. You are giving them the opportunity of telling you when they're ready to do something. That's the way they interpret it. Its not perceived as a command. Very few of us respond kindly to a command.

I taught preschool for several years and later had my own children. Virtually every day as my children were growing up I was able to use this very simple way of gaining their co-operation. If they wanted to watch a movie, or play outside, or have a snack I would often say: As soon as you've brushed your teeth, I'll know you're reading for your story or As soon as you've hung your coat up and put your shoes away, I'll know you're ready for your snack or As soon as you've picked up your lego, I'll know you're ready to watch your movie.

Another variation of the same phrase is when your child asks for something or to do something you can say: Sure, as soon as you've finished your homework or Sure, as soon as the dishwasher is emptied. They might say: Can I have a cookie? You can reply: Sure you can have a cookie; as soon as you've fed the cat. You get the idea.

In the 20 years that I've worked as a parent educator, I've shared this very simple, effective phrase with literally hundreds of parents. Many have come back to me with comments such as: It works like magic or I was skeptical but it really works or I can't believe how easy it is. What is so nice is that it's appropriate to use with every age group, as long as they have language. Give it a try.

Barbara Desmarais is a parenting and life coach who has worked with parents for over 20 years. She presents parenting workshops in and around Vancouver, B.C. and coaches parents privately, primarily over the telephone. Barb is regularly quoted in Today's Parent magazine and is frequently called upon to offer advice parenting advice on the radio and for podcasts.

She is mother to four young, adult children, including twin, deaf step-sons. She has been married for 24 years.