Sunday, March 2, 2014

How to Get What You Want: Lessons in Persuasion from a Two Year Old

I was beginning to think that my two year old had Jedi mind powers, and that this was the only rational explanation for her unbelievable talent for getting exactly what she wants. Then I realised she just had a natural ability, common to small children, to persuade adults to do whatever she wanted.

Unfortunately this talent seems to diminish over the years, along with the startle reflex and that thing where babies turn their heads when your tickle them on the cheek. Otherwise I would still be able to use my powers of persuasion to get the kids to hang their towels up and I wouldn’t be wading around ankle-deep in empty toilet rolls when there is a perfectly good bin less than a foot away.

Here are the lessons I have learned from my children. Use them at your own risk:

Yeah Mum, I'm going to need you to put this DVD on for me.

Rule 1: Do 90% of it for them

When people can see the time commitment involved in responding to a request it makes it easier to make a decision. So the trick to getting people to do what you want, is to do as much of the task for them as possible.

Case in point: when my two year old wants some yoghurt, she will get the yoghurt from the fridge, a bowl and a spoon. She will stand in front of me and hold out the yoghurt, and then point at the bowl. All I have to do to fulfil her request is pour a bit in the bowl.

Following this rule simultaneously with Rule 2 or 3, almost guarantees success.

Rule 2: Evoke emotion

Forget money, emotion is what motivates people to act. If you want people to do something for you, you must evoke in them a powerful emotional response such as anger or pity. Adoration works well when you’re small and cute or a supermodel, but that tends to be less common amongst us ordinary folk.

Case in point: ‘Mum can we paint?’ ‘No, it’s almost dinner time and I want the table clear.’ ‘But we want to paint a picture of you because you’re the most beautiful Mum in the whole world.’ “Oh, ok then.’

Rule 3: When dismissal = reward

The key behind this rule is to make the other person want you to go away, and the only way you will go away is by them giving you what you want. This rule is well known to both door-to-door salespeople as well as little children. The irritation factor is a strong motivator to giving in. I will give someone $5 so I don’t have to see a photographic essay on the blind wallabies with Olympic aspirations who are also training to be chefs so they can feed underprivileged wombats who have been orphaned by deforestation.

Case in point: Like many small children, my two year old loves TV and she will try most tricks to get me to turn it on for her. She has learned that if she starts removing objects from the drawers and cupboards and running away with them (especially when I am trying to cook dinner) I am more likely to give her what she wants, so she leaves me alone*.

Here’s a tip, don’t let your kids see you on the phone, and NEVER tell them it’s an important call and they need to be quiet. They know you’re absolutely ripe for the picking and will attack you en masse.

Rule 4: Get others to do the work for you

If you can market yourself properly, people will want to help you. And if you do it effectively, you no longer need to fight your own battles, someone else will do it for you. Many charities and conservation groups work on this rule, energising volunteers to rattle tins and tie themselves to trees. Two year olds are quite crafty at getting their big sisters to rally to their cause.

Case in point: we were all dressed and ready to go to school/day-care.  For the first time my middle child is now in uniform having started Kindy, so the two older girls were in school dresses. With less than a minute before we needed to leave my two year old found a dirty school dress in the wash basket, removed her shorts and t-shirt and tried to put the dress on. When I tried to persuade her otherwise, her sisters got behind her cause, declared her rights to wear a uniform and by the way, isn’t she cute (Rule 2). Needless to say, she went to day-care wearing a school uniform.

Rule 5: Make them think you’re doing them a favour

This is my personal favourite because it shows how clever the kids have become at ‘duping’ their poor old Mum. This method is all about making the person think you are actually doing something for them, when in fact they are doing something for you.

Case in point: my eldest daughter will come up to me and give me a hug. Then with a very sincere expression on her face she will say ‘how about all us kids sit quietly and watch some TV so you can have some quiet time?’ How can I disagree with that logic?


Of course there are probably some other logical explanations for why I end up giving my two old what she wants: I am sleep-deprived, I’m a soft touch, I‘m inconsistent, I’m a bad mother.

Na, it must be Jedi mind powers.


*Please no narky comments about why I’m a bad mother wanting my children to go away. If you didn't want your kids to go away every now and then , you wouldn't be here.


  1. Every mother wants/needs their kids to go away sometimes. Not all mother's admit it. And just because we want five minutes' peace, doesn't mean we don't love them—we are merely trying to maintain, or sometimes regain, our sanity.

    Very funny and very enjoyable post!

  2. Thanks Louise, and the truth is, when I am not with my children, they're usually uppermost in my thoughts.


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