The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Health & Family

October 18, 2012

Sarah Coyne: Comedic reverse psychology a godsend

JOPLIN, Mo. — It’s one thing to be full of creative child-rearing ideas when everything is swimming along in waves of perfection. It’s entirely another thing to execute those creative solutions in the midst of dinner disasters, missed exits and shrieking toddlers.

If you’re anything like me, you can probably think of a dozen ways you might handle a stressful parenting situation in hindsight. But in the needful moment itself? I freeze, which certainly isn’t helpful.

What would be helpful is a cache of solutions at the ready -- a back pocket full of thought-free ideas to work through some of our most common parenting needs.

I think one of the surest ways to develop this collection is through trial and error, which is sad. Rightfully, parents should be granted unlimited access to creative wisdom. Instead, we have to work for it, and our kids are the teachers.

While I don’t think my back pocket is full of creative solutions just yet, there is one definite card I’ve noticed being pulled in our house more often than others. Even better, this particular solution is one the kids encourage me to pull. They practically beg for it.

It’s comedic reverse psychology, and I’m quite sure the scientists who investigate these things will want to do a case study. I, though, am already convinced of its legitimacy.

When I first noticed how helpful this strategy is, it was during cleanup time. I found that if I pretended to be horrified at the thought of missing out on any of the cleaning, my kids would jump at the chance to upset my plans.

“Now, I’m really looking forward to putting all these crayons back into their boxes, so you’d better not touch them before I get back from the restroom.”

Without a doubt, my little ones know exactly what’s going on. They are both instigators and perpetrators in this little game, but it works to energize them toward accomplishing our goal. They whisper, giggle and thwart me while I spout warnings, threats and impossible ultimatums.

By the end of the game, they know I’m hilariously frustrated, and they count on being tickled in retaliation. Comedic reverse psychology for the win.

I do believe kids just need to be able to hold up their end of responsibilities and instructions from parents without a load of exaggerated silliness, but sometimes a dose of levity can make everything more palatable.

Take the case of the style-stricken preschooler. When she wants to wear a tank top with her favorite leggings -- the leggings that are two sizes too small, with a hole in the knee -- to school on a chilly autumn day, we arrive at an impasse. I lay out some acceptable alternatives, which she summarily refuses, until I remember comedic reverse psychology.

“You can try on this outfit, and if you like it, fine. If you don’t, fine. But if you put it on and it makes you look like a teenager? I don’t want you to wear it. OK? Come show me when you’re dressed, and I’ll decide if you look too grown up.”

Like a fish on a line, she’s hooked. And when I pitch a silly fit over how she looks entirely too grown up to leave the house in such a beautiful outfit, she’s safely landed in the boat.

Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog, http://thisheavenlylife.

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