Discipline and Competition

Getting children to do what you want them to do can be a struggle. And when the struggle gets too stressful, many parents resort to discipline, either by imposing punishments (“If you don’t clean up this mess you’re going into timeout”) or by offering a reward (“If you clean your room we can go out for ice cream”). However, these external motivators are nothing more than coercive tactics that do little help children develop the internal motivation to want to do something.

Rather than disciplining the child to force compliance, try turning the situation into a competition, which will spark the child’s internal motivation to win. For example:

  • Instead of: “If you don’t clean your room you’re going into timeout.”
  • Try: “I bet you can’t put all those toys away in under 10 minutes. Ready …. Set …. Go!”
  • Instead of: “Help me take these bags to the house and I’ll let you watch TV.”
  • Try: “I wonder who can walk to the house quicker while carrying a bag.”
  • Instead of: “Eat your dinner now or there’s no dessert.”
  • Try: “Let’s see who can take the bigger bite (or fit the most peas on the spoon or get their plate the cleanest, etc.)”

You get the idea. Once you phrase your request in the form of a physical or mental challenge (rather than a power struggle or behavioral challenge), most youth are eager to show off their speed, their smarts, or their skills.

So the next time your child refuses to do what you’re asking, turn it around and figure out how to make the request a competition. You’ll find that the request quickly gets done, with no discipline needed.