When my 20-something daughters were little girls, I read dozens of child rearing books to manage their behavior without constant scolding. While I can’t claim to have been the perfect mother, many of the methods I learned actually worked. What was more amazing, I discovered these concepts also worked on people more than three-feet tall — like husbands.
One of my favorite strategy books was called “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk,” which must have contained some pretty good advice since it’s still being published. The main idea behind this parenting how-to was making your children think they were getting their way when something was really your idea.
For instance, using the limited choice technique I would not ask my daughter to get dressed. Instead, I’d open her dresser drawer and say, “Do you want to wear your blue shirt or red shirt today?” She felt like she was in charge because she got to choose the color, but there was no question a shirt would be put on.
Using this strategy with her husband, a wife would not ask, “Honey, do you want to go out tonight?” but rather “Honey, would you rather go to the movies or out to dinner tonight?” It could be he’d prefer to stay home and watch re-runs of “Family Guy,” but odds are good he’ll choose one of the two options because of how the question was phrased. (Sales people use this trick, too, by the way, so if you ever drove home from an auto dealer with a shiny new car you hadn’t planned to buy, that’s why.)
Another popular parenting technique comes from a 1964 book called “Children: The Challenge” by an Adlerian psychologist named Rudolf Dreikurs. Though the book is not exactly hot off the presses, one of its main concepts — logical consequences — remains fresh and relevant.
Using logical consequences, I did not discipline my daughters by doing something unrelated to their actions. For instance, if one of the girls acted up at the park, I did not swat her in the behind, but rather took her home. She quickly learned to connect misbehaving with being removed from a fun situation, and we avoided public displays of mommy looking like a child abuser.
Similarly, a wife who habitually reminds her husband to pick up his dirty clothes from the floor not only risks being viewed as a nag, but also gets annoyed with her husband for having to make such frequent requests. If, instead, the clothes that remain on the floor do not make it to the washing machine, her husband will associate his careless habit with no clean socks or underwear and eventually learn where his laundry basket lives.
While the above strategies could seem manipulative when applied to husbands versus children, they could also be viewed as effective ways to avoid power struggles. What’s more, husbands can employ these same techniques with their wives and enjoy similar positive results. Used respectfully, both halves of the couple will be rewarded with less frustration and a more fulfilling marriage.