How Do I Get My Child to Do What I Want?

By Alisha Bennett, LMSW

As children get older, getting them to do what you want can seem like a constant struggle. Gone are the days of the acquiescent grade schooler who hangs on your every word and happily obeys your directives. Once your children reach the “terrible twelves” they may start to test you and the boundaries that you’ve worked so hard to establish. Of course, this stage can begin much earlier, and no child follows the exact same pattern.

This struggle can be frustrating as you, the parent, have rules and routines that you want your child to follow. You have expectations and goals for them. You want them to succeed in school, to have friends, to be happy, and to be a good citizen.

As children start to enter adolescence, they may begin to pull away from your expectations a little more. They may want to spend more time socializing and less time on their schoolwork. As this happens, I often hear the question, “How do I get them to do what I want?” Below are tips on how to develop plans at home with your child to get what you, the parent, want, while keeping the peace.

  1. Identify what your goals and desired behavior are for your child. Being consistent is important.

  2. Identify what motivates and interests your child.

  3. Use your child's interests and desires to compromise and establish incentives for good behavior. For example, John (child) wants that new video game. I (parent) want him to spend more time doing his homework/studying to improve his grades from 70’s to 80’s. Instead of buying the video game for him because he wants it, set expectations and goals for him to meet over the next semester. Once he meets these goals, then buy him the video game.

  4.  Increase the chances of your child buying in to your plan by making them an active participant. When your child has input, they won’t feel infantilized, and you can better understand their needs and what motivates them. Write a contract and sign it with your child.

  5. Keep track of progress made on goals. Consider making a tracking system that’s visual to both parent(s) and child. For example, make a calendar where you and your child can check off daily that your child spent the agreed upon time on homework/studying.

  6. Follow through. Don’t make empty promises. If your child meets their goals, make sure you follow through with the promised reward. Consistency will help motivate your child to form new goals and expectations later. And no matter how much your child may beg, stay the course! It will pay off in the long run.

These tips may be applied to help reach any goals you might have for your child. Maybe it’s a specific behavior or skill. Give them a try. And remember: planning with your child, consistency, and follow-through are essential!

Alisha Bennett, LMSW is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy, with locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Contact Alisha to learn more about behavior modification and setting goals with your children.