On the parenting podcast What Fresh Hell: Laughing in the Face of Motherhood, co-host Amy Wilson told a childhood story about how she loved to poop in a nappy “until a pretty ripe old age”. She knew she shouldn’t do it, and her mum and dad knew she knew, but their efforts to get her to stop weren’t working. And so they finally took her to see a doctor.
Here’s what happened next:
The paediatrician sat me on his lap and had me read aloud from a child advice book about getting kids to poop on the potty and why it’s important. And he had me read it to him. And he said, “Don’t you think that if you could read that, you’re old enough to not be doing this any more?” And I was like, eh, OK, it was a good run. And that was the end of it.
Now that Wilson is a mum, she offers other parents the same tactic: To get your kids to take advice, have someone else give it to them. Someone you trust, of course. Let the dentist tell your child it’s time to stop using a dummy. Let the nutritionist explain why too much junk food will make her body sick. Let Alexa tell him it’s eight o’clock and therefore time to get ready for bed.
Says Wilson: “My mother’s approach was always, ‘The lady said ...’ and I’m not afraid to use that either.”
There's an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where Ray remembers an effective parenting method he learned from his dad. AIS. Arse In Seat. He'd say, 'We're leaving. 9 o'clock, AIS!' and whoever's arse was not in their seat at the designated time would be left behind. The kicker? Ray tries it on Debra, his wife. Moral: Don't try it on your wife. (Also, yeah, I used to watch a lot of Everybody Loves Raymond - don't hate.)
Look, your children think the world of you, and in their eyes you are the most amazing person on the planet. But they also just watched you do Bullwinkle impressions in the shower and find your car keys in the freezer. In terms of your credentials for giving advice in certain areas, they’re sceptical.
Also, kids are hardwired to be oppositional toward their parents, and the more you push, the more they push back. (As much as it sucks, it isn’t a flaw).
Sometimes, it helps to remove yourself from the equation, and let facts be the guide. And a way to relay facts to your child is through a reputable outside source.
The strategy works in tandem with a general philosophy of “show, don’t tell”. For instance, a nutritionist telling your kid to eat more vegetables will do nothing unless the child also sees you eat vegetables. You aren’t offloading parenting responsibilities — you’re simply taking away the push and pull. For the kid, it isn’t time to stop pooping in a nappy because “Mum said so”, but because it is time.