Want to Instantly Turn Defiance Into Cooperation? Try This!

Some of the most frustrating moments I’ve experienced while being with young people are those times when I really need their cooperation and instead I get met with defiance. I’m trying to get out the door and they refuse to put on their shoes. I want to sit down for dinner and they’re running around the house screaming. I’d like to brush their teeth and get them ready for bed, and they just want to keep playing. Ugh!

I’ve tried lots of strategies to transform those moments, and now that my daughter is approaching 3, I’ve been getting even more opportunities to help her move from defiance to cooperation. Granted, we’ve done a LOT of work to develop ongoing cooperation already, but there are times when I can see, she’s just not interested in going along with what I’m wanting. She wants to assert herself, choose her own path, and often in those moments what’s most fun is to choose the exact opposite of what I want.

So, what do I do? I quickly change my position. Don’t put on your shoes. I do NOT want to see those shoes on your feet.” This reversal instantly encourages my daughter to continue to “defy” me with a glint in her eye as she deviously puts on her shoes.

I protest loudly, “No, no, no! Stop that right now! Oh no, she’s doing it!” And she begins to giggle as she rushes to do all of the things I “don’t” want her to do. “Well, whatever you do, don’t put on your jacket. Hey! You little rascal! What do you think you’re doing?! Get back here! Don’t you dare climb into your car seat! Oh no!”

My daughter absolutely loves this game because she gets to express her defiance, without actually causing any real conflict. And she gets to be the powerful one while I’m relegated to mock frustration and helplessness as she does all the things I’m so desperate to stop her from doing.

In case you’re wondering, it’s obvious to everyone that we’re playing a game. In fact, after playing this game whenever needed over the past few months, now Julia actually asks to play it when she’s not feeling particularly cooperative.

“Will you tell me NOT to do it?” she’ll ask.

And I’m happy to oblige. This game has turned countless moments of potential conflict and parental frustration into a super fun game full of giggles. And best of all, I get the cooperation I was asking for in the first place. It’s really a win-win.

So right now, consider an area of conflict that you’ve been experiencing with your child. Is there a way to reverse your position so that your kids can defy you by doing exactly what you’re wanting? Can you completely let go of your frustration and upset and play with your child instead? Between your new found playfulness and the reversal of power involved, your child will be helpless to resist the fun to be had.

Just one warning though, you do actually have to be able to drop your attachment to the outcome and have some fun. If kids sense that you’re only playing the game to get them to do what you want, it won’t be nearly as fun or effective. So do your best to fully step into character, be the weak and helpless one, and beg them not to do the thing you’re actually wanting. And if they start giggling, you know you’re on the right track!

I would love to hear about your experiences with this and other similar games. Please share your story with me below!

And have a wonderful week, Shelly


This is a time-tested technique.  I remember my own mother using the very same trick many many years ago with my younger siblings (probably me too) only she called it reverse-psychology and it worked like a charm!

So much of young children's lives are about playing, that if we can use it to our advantage, everyone wins!

AwakeShelly moderator

@lahees Yes! My mom called it reverse psychology too :) I used this just last night to get my daughter to eat her veggies. Worked like a charm! Thanks so much for your comment. Have a great day!