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(Questionable) parenting tricks that work like that a charm

I’m no parenting expert, as those of you who have witnessed, in public or in private, me whisper-yelling or real-yelling at bickering kids to stop touching each other already know. But over the years, I have picked up some really effective parenting tricks, that—as a generous fellow parent—I feel obligated to share with you now. Here you go:

Connect choices with consequences—REALLY bad ones. Do you ask your child to brush his teeth so many times that you annoy yourself? And then find yourself yelling that if he doesn’t move away from the Pokemon cards, you’re going to toss them all in a place where he’ll never find them (and in a week you won’t be able to either). I do. Almost every morning. Except for that day, when I showed my hesitant-brusher a bunch of photos of meth mouth and told him that this is what could happen if you don’t take care of your teeth.

This brilliant idea was not mine. I remembered reading that it worked for my friend Cristen. She’s an educator, with a Ph.D., and her husband is a medical doctor. So I received this idea as scientifically sound advice. Efficacious too. Worked like a charm.

Trust them with knives and fire*. Recently, I took my then-six-year-old to Trader Joe’s, where he promptly picked out just about every fruit in store. It was sort of a nutritionist’s dream so I bought them all (in additional to several packaged goods containing chocolate, which he also tossed in the cart).

After dinner, while the rest of the fam was lingering at the table, Jules went rummaging in the kitchen. He returned with two fresh apricot halves, pits removed and replaced with raspberries. “Dessert!” he announced, presenting them to us. He’d “carved” them with a butter knife. “It didn’t need a sharp one,” he explained.

Turns out, trust (or negligence in this case) creates thoughtful little chefs. After his second batch of fruit bowls—custom-created with the addition of strawberry slivers for his little brother—he returned to the kitchen, sing-songing over his shoulder: “What a mess I have to clean up now!” Words: we had none.

Introduce sport; welcome friendly competition. It’s no secret that, much like walking your dog will keep him from ravaging your house, exercising your child will keep him from destroying your day and that of everyone around him. But, some months back, I picked up this little trick: If you take your child to do something fun and physical—let’s say swimming—and his stronger-swimming friend just so happens to be there, pushing him to play and scoop and kick harder, your kid is even more good-tired and mellow later (until, just a little later than later, he runs out one door of the restaurant and his brother, the other).

Offer cold hard cash. I know bribing is ill-advised by most parenting experts. And I know—first hand—that it often ends in tit-for-tat stand-offs. But I also know that when it comes time for showers, and no one is budging from the LEGO table, the promise of a quarter drives action. It results in a shower. And then, by way of healthy (or perhaps not-so-healthy) competition, it results in another shower (rewarded with a dime). The boys are on a kick of saving these coins for fun family outings, so call this compensation situation what you well but I’m going to consider it this: a family investment.

What are your parenting tricks—the ones that actually work?

* The author assumes no responsibility for the safety or efficacy of any of these tricks, particularly this one.

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