Influencing Kids to Make Good Choices: A Simple Example from Our Road Trip

I‘m writing this blog post on Good Friday, from the passenger seat in our family car. My wife is doing the driving as we head to Montreal for the long weekend. That’s where my parents live. My kids are in the back seat playing Polly Pockets. I’ll probably find little pieces of their toys for the next 3 years now :)

My wife asked me what I was writing about. I said, “I’m writing a blog post about going to the bathroom”. She gave me a strange look. But it’s the truth.

How many times have you tried to get your kid to go for a pee BEFORE you leave the house, only to be faced with, “But I don’t have to go right now”. It reminds me of this Robert Munsch book, “I Have to Go!”. Hilarious book, BTW.

So we’re not quite at the halfway point of our drive yet, and my 4 year old announces that she really has to go pee. We look at the GPS and realize it’s about 25 minutes until a rest stop. No problem. A few simple distractions and we’re at the rest stop without much complaining. Time flies when you’re distracted.

My wife rushed our youngest daughter into the girls bathroom, and I took our 6-year old, Anne, with me into the guys’ bathroom. This is where she starts insisting that she doesn’t need to go. Of course I know that if she skips this opportunity she’ll just start complaining within 30 minutes that she’s busting to pee.

How can a parent convince a child to decide to go for a pee now, while the opportunity knocks, rather than wait? Well, as I’ve always taught, it’s about positioning it like a choice that the child must make, and then coloring in your description of the choices so that one option is much more appealing than the other.

After Anne told me she didn’t need to go pee, I simply kneeled down to her level and said something like this:

“Anne – I hear you. You don’t need to go pee right now. I believe you. And it’s up to you, it’s your choice. If you go now, you’ll be sure that you will be comfortable in the car for the long drive that we have left before lunch. But if you wait, do you remember what it feels like to really have to go pee, and be far away from a bathroom? Do you remember how uncomfortable that was last time? Imagine how you’ll feel in just a little while when we’ve already left this place, and you’re stuck in the car without any place to stop to pee for a long time?”

She just looked at me and said, “Oh ..ok … fine. I’ll go.”

No fight. And if she had still decided that she didn’t need to go there would still be no fight. And if she got back in the car and started complaining that she needed to go pee, there would STILL be no fight because I’d politely remind her that she made her decision and she had to deal with it.

But part of why Anne made the right choice is because I used questions to essentially force her to imagine the discomfort of being in the car and having to go to the bathroom.

When I say I “forced” her to imagine the discomfort, I don’t mean I physically forced her – obviously. But when you ask somebody a question their mind has to search its database of knowledge to understand the question. The brain does this automatically.

Imagine I asked you to describe to me your favorite shade of blue. You might not want to answer me out loud, or at all. But it would be impossible for you NOT to think of the color blue at least for a moment.

My goal with my daughter was to simply have her think about feeling uncomfortable and having to go pee while being stuck in the car. Just by having her imagine it for a moment, it was enough to get her to make a good decision.

You can apply this same tool to a huge number of choices that you present to your child. Just remember that it isn’t YOU who describes the choices. You simply ask questions to help your child vividly imagine the two potential outcomes of each choice such that one choice seems much more appealing.

It really can be that simple. This is not rocket science. Nor should it be.

Enjoy your children,
Chris Thompson

SEE ALSO: This audio lesson will forever change the way you interact with your kids

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3 Responses to Influencing Kids to Make Good Choices: A Simple Example from Our Road Trip

  1. Football Scout April 23, 2011 at 11:25 am #

    This is a fantastic tip, Chris. My little lad will only ever need to go when we’re 20 mins into a long road trip on the motorway… and inevitably I get “the look” from my wife which tells me that I should have tried a lot harder to make him go before we left. I’m looking forward to trying this out now! Thanks.

  2. Vernise April 29, 2011 at 5:47 pm #

    Thank you so much, Chris. You are a lifesaver. My daughter is in that stage (4yrs old) of saying NO to eveything. This is a great tip.

  3. sheetal May 2, 2011 at 10:07 am #

    sure worth a try…thanks

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