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The Secret To Getting Your Kids To Do What You Want

Want your kids to pick up their toys? Instead of telling them to pick up, tell them they’re clean, neat children – even if they’re not.

So says research Gretchen Rubin explores on The Happiness Project today. She’s looking at a collection of resources on how to encourage pro-social behavior. Which is a fancy way of saying, playing well with others.

Rubin writes that:

David Dunning describes a very interesting study that compared two classrooms of fifth graders. One class received several messages about the importance of not littering. The other class was told that it was a very neat and tidy class the janitor told the class they were neatest class in the school, the teacher remarked on it, etc. It turns out that the second approach was much more effective in prompting the children not to litter.

This extends, obviously, to other areas of life. In general you’ll get more bang for your parenting buck when you tell a child what you like about their behavior than you will when you criticize what you don’t like.

The reverse is also true. My husband and I call this the “ruckus” factor. We were in a cafe in Vermont, once, pregnant with our first baby, when a woman walked in with a three-year-old boy. She sat him down at a table near ours and went up to the counter to order. The boy sat and played quietly, looking out the window. After a few minutes, his mom poked her head back in and said, “You’re not creating a ruckus in here, are you? Remember: no ruckus!”

She went back to the line and the kid immediately perked up and started jumping up and down on the bench he was sitting on, tossing pillows, licking the plate glass window, and shouting “ruckus! ruckus! ruckus!”

To this day, when one of us catches the other telling the kids what NOT TO do instead of what we’d like them TO do, we’ll shout “ruckus!”

Photo: tomeppy

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