10 ways to get your child to do what you want

Any parent to a small child knows that reasoning with them can be no use whatsoever. Sometimes, the only way to get little people to do things is to trick them. Here are 10 sneaky ways to get them to do what you want:

Use the right syntax

This is a clever trick from my friend Alex, who says it works until children are three. ‘Young children will almost invariably choose the last option given. “Do you want mummy to put you to bed, or daddy?” Please don’t tell my husband.’

Turn it into a fantasy game

My friend Sonia pretends there’s an emergency and only a superhero can help her by putting on the shoes/wiping the hands/eating the pasta. ‘The more dramatic and urgent the better,’ Sonia says.

CBeebies’ Woolly and Tig

Apologies if you’re determined to survive without it but I personally find TV can provide useful subliminal education when you’re having downtime. CBeebies’ Woolly and Tig is ideal– children are hypnotised by it, and in each episode there’s a lesson on behaviour which they take in without really noticing.

It teaches children about things like waiting patiently, washing hair without screaming, and going to the dentist. The fact we’ve just invested in the full DVD set shows how useful I find it.

Hobson’s Choice

This is a choice where there is only in fact one option; it’s just disguised. ‘Do you want to hold my hand with the glove on, or without the glove on?’ when you want them to hold your hand crossing the road.

‘Do you want to put your toys away in three minutes or five minutes?’

‘Do you want a green apple or a red apple?’

Works well with children who want everything their way (ie all children).

The power of the snack

If I need to get my daughter into the buggy, I always try to give her a snack at the exact moment she has to be strapped in. The timing is very important – if said snack is given even 30 seconds before being placed in the buggy, it doesn’t work. Over the years I’ve also worked out that children have a thing about snacks in nice packaging so I try to have a shiny packet of Organix or Goodies to hand.


In our house, my husband is the master of this. Just as the children are melting down, he lets out a sudden ‘quack’ which sounds like a duck blowing a raspberry. Their attention is diverted and they can’t help laughing as they try to work out where the sound is coming from (and so we now have a whole family myth about a secret duck in our house).

This would work with any weird sound.

Roll a ball

I discovered this quite by chance recently on a visit to the botanical gardens with my 17-month-old daughter. All I had to do was roll our bouncy ball, and she chased it. Hmm, I thought. I need her to walk away from the river and towards the exit – so I rolled the ball along the paths I wanted her to go down, and it worked like a dream.

This technique also works well with toys, so long as they aren’t easily breakable.

Invoke Father Christmas

I feel slightly guilty about this one, since I don’t believe in lying to my children, but what the hell, it works wonders with my four-year-old. At any time of year – yes, it works even in July and that’s the joy of this – you simply tell them Santa is ALWAYS watching and will only bring presents this Christmas to the children who go to bed on time.

Reverse psychology

‘Oops, I put too much food on your plate – you can’t possibly eat it’. ‘No, don’t show me your tummy, I don’t want to see your tummy!’ – when you want them to get changed.
‘We’re not going to be there for weeks and months and years and we’re all going to be starving and miserable’ – when they keep asking ‘Are we there yet?’

Sheer bribery

OK, perhaps not exactly a parenting strategy that would be recommended by smug mummies, but again, it works.

If they behave, they get a sticker. Except in my son’s case, a sticker isn’t enough. He negotiates a biscuit, or even better, a trip to the toy shop. I’m not really sure who’s in charge if I’m honest.

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