I want to tell you a story about one recent Sunday morning and how I used language to influence my kids. I hope this story shows you how easy it can be to leverage communication skills.
As usual on Sundays, I woke up to the sound of my kids playing at the foot of my bed. This is a pretty common experience for me. They either hop into bed and ask me to turn on the TV, or they just play quietly in the bedroom. My wife heads out early to go swimming on Sundays, so it’s just me and the kids.
Soon after we wake up, it’s breakfast time. My youngest daughter has grown quite fond of Cottage Cheese. On this Sunday morning she asked for Cottage Cheese for breakfast (along with some fruit), and so it was. I gave it to her. Hey, it’s better than Count Chocula, or whatever other crap cereals I always asked for when I was a kid!
My older daughter was digging through the cupboards after finishing her oatmeal. She found these nasty candies that one of our relatives bought for them the week before. They were purple wristbands made from that gummy-worm material. They come neatly wrapped up in individual packaging. There were two left. She grabbed them and said, “Daddy, can we eat these?”.
My youngest stopped eating her Cottage Cheese and agreed with her sister “Yeah, Daddy can we have those right now?”.
My goal was to avoid a fight, while having to explain to my daughter that she needs to finish her breakfast first. My secondary goal was to distract them from the fact that there were two candies … and have them share one. These things were gross, and I really didn’t wanna feed them the sugar.
Here’s what I said to my younger daughter. Notice the way the language is worded? It’s not a proper sentence. This is known as “punctuational ambiguity”. This is done on purpose.
“You can eat that after how many bites of Cottage Cheese are left?”
The second portion of what I said … the question part, is what I emphasized with my tone. The kids heard the first part, so there was no fight. But they *really* heard the second part, which was a direct question.
I got my youngest to guess how many bites she had left. Then I got my oldest to count as she took the remaining bites, turning it into a game that involved both kids. The result? No fight … and she ate her breakfast completely.
Now onto the nasty candy. The first thing I did was present the idea of sharing ONE of the candies rather than opening both. I did this by reframing the meaning of sharing. Normally kids would think, “Well, I only get half the candy”. To avoid this I simply suggested that we put one candy away for later, and that we “cut this one into two pieces … that way you get to eat a piece now and you’ll still have the other candy to eat later”. It worked, but primarily because I was really congruent with my delivery. If I had not been “sold” on it with my body language, they would have seen right through me.
The next thing I did was to use a series of “binds” … or what I refer to as the illusion of choice.
“Do you want me to cut it with scissors, or a knife”
“Do you want a purple half, or a purple half” … this was just a joke to get them to laugh.
“Do you want *this* purple half, or *this* purple half” (getting each daughter to choose her piece).
Having them make these selections creates consistency, and essentially eliminates their ability to change their mind. It’s a simple psychological tactic.
The outcome was exactly what I hoped for. It doesn’t always work as easily as this, but most times it does. I had to be quick on my toes, understand what language patterns to use, and be congruent about them when I delivered them.
Parents: My audio program contains nearly 3 hours of lessons that you can start using right away to reduce your parenting stress. Click here to check out the Talking to Toddlers audio course.