How to Make Your Child Do What’s Good for Her


“She won’t eat.”

“He doesn’t brush his teeth/hair!”

“He won’t make his bed.”

“She won’t wash properly – the back of her neck is caked with dirt, and she will neither clean it nor let me do it.”

“He hits his little sister all the time.”

As parents, we are all sailing in the same boat. Each of us has some statement to contribute to the above litany.

There is at least one thing that your child does / doesn’t do that bothers you – because he shouldn’t / should be doing it. And you request, remind, ignore it, harangue, nag, plead, shout to no avail. You just cannot reach your child. But you don’t give up, though you come close to doing so innumerable times. Your love for your child keeps you going, hoping against hope that things will change. The point of disagreement becomes an issue before you know it. Over time, you despair of ever resolving this issue.

“She won’t eat.” – You’ve told her she won’t grow tall/strong; she’ll have no energy to do the things she enjoys doing; she’ll have poor immunity, get sick frequently, suffer through the illness and miss having a regular life… but – (shrug).

She understands what you’re saying, but she doesn’t care enough about these benefits of eating. Maybe because they seem so remote (she has to eat 3 times a day for months to see herself 1 inch taller), or she can’t connect with them (she’s got by alright thus far ‘without eating’, and hasn’t fallen ill or had less energy, so she doesn’t take your doomsday forecasts seriously).

There is a way out. It’s a time-tested, world-renowned concept called WIIFM: What’s In It For Me. Marketers use it, motivation coaches use it, people in all walks of life use it professionally. It’s time to bring it into the home, into the family.

You need to think from your child’s point of view – What’s In It For Her. You need to find a benefit your child cares about – and then you need to find a hook. Maybe beauty is the benefit she can connect with. Tell her how important food is for good skin, teeth and hair, for sparkling eyes. Maybe you could find interviews of a celebrity she idealizes and show your child what a vital role food plays in the beauty queen’s regimen.

The WIIFM, the benefit, will be relatively easy to identify. The hook will be more difficult, but it’s doable.

I was conducting a workshop on English as part of an integrated summer program for children. The program included soccer, photography, yoga, and a few other activities. 90% of them loved soccer. I got creative writing essays based on soccer; innumerable photographs related to soccer were offered as project work in photography. In fact, we loved it best when soccer was scheduled before our session so the kids would be done with it, and could settle down. Else, it was always: “How much longer before we can go for soccer?” 🙂

Most children found yoga boring. The yoga and soccer instructors spent a lot of time motivating the children to do yoga: “It will give you greater flexibility – you can play better soccer.” “It will strengthen your muscles – help you to breathe deeply – give you more oxygen and stamina to run faster for longer, to kick harder”… The children got it, but not one ‘bought’ it.

One day, a boy who had weak hamstrings was doing a yoga pose. This group had soccer right after yoga. And the child found that he succeeded in his first attempt at making a particular kind of soccer move – one he had not been able to make thus far. The soccer teacher pointed out: “See? You’ve been doing that yoga pose to make your hamstrings stronger, so you could do this soccer move today.” (Hook!)

The next day onwards, the children were raving about yoga. Not for itself, but because doing specific poses allowed them to move their legs higher, or gave them greater stability while attempting a particular kind of kick etc. The hook had been found! 🙂

Understandably, a few children who were not into physical activity of any kind still avoided both yoga and soccer, while others who were very advanced in one or the other were dissatisfied because they felt the program was too basic, but these exceptions are only to be expected.

As a parent, you need to cater to just one person – your child. Even if you have more than one child, you need to figure out WIIFM for each one separately. Maybe the benefit is the same, but you may need to find different hooks for each child.

 Some issues will still persist. Sometimes, children will continue to be who they are, never mind your best attempts to get them to do what you want. WIIFM won’t work every time, but it will definitely resolve some disagreements.

Why don’t you try it? I’d love to hear what problem you solved. Good luck! 🙂

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂

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