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Parenting Principles of Persuasion

By Joseph McPhail

While building WEquil School with my daughters I discovered five principles for persuasion that other parents may find helpful. They are a bit radical...but perhaps that should be expected. While building our virtual leadership training platform we interviewed over a hundred parents and young people. Many parents say they have trouble convincing their kids to do things that they know are good for them.

Parents know their kids have the capacity to apply themselves and use tools like Khan Academy and Ted to explore and grow. They know that the internet has changed everything, and if their kids could just be curious and love learning that they could become unstoppable.

But parents keep running into the same routine reminders..."clean your room", "do your homework", "be nice to your sister" ... blah blah blah ... the monotonous nature of parenting can be a real chore and the kids don't like it any more than the parents.

I haven't "parented" for about a year now. It's AWESOME!

My daughters wake up each day and devote themselves to using their minds, relationships, and technology to growing themselves and finding happiness. We are a team. And that's way more fun and helpful than "parenting".

Every parent can have this transformation...moving from a broken record to breaking records. Kids want parents that empower them to achieve their potential. But to do this parents need to learn how to persuade.

Here are the five parenting principles of persuasion. They are simple enough to understand...but takes courage to put into practice....

  1. Don't keep secrets

  2. Respect their time

  3. Be persuadable

  4. Positive reinforcement

  5. We do what we want

1. Don't keep secrets means that we parents should not hide our thoughts about them. My daughters know that I don't keep secrets. Even about things that might make other parents cringe. One time Sumay brought home a report card with all "As" except one...for Economics. I tore the report card in half. She's written many articles about Economics for WEquil School and performed more deep dives into various industries and technologies. When she was seven years old I gave her an article titled "Lies we tell kids" that she wrote about the next year. The takeaway is that if you want to have street credit with your kids ... respect them by telling them the truth.

Example: When Mom and I are concerned about something that relates to our daughters we include them in the discussion. This way they are part of the solution. We had many discussions together about the pros and cons of taking them out of public school and ultimately made the decision only after getting their buy-in on the right solution.

2. Respect their time means give kids the same flexibility you would give an adult. You would not walk up to a colleague at work and start making demands. Yet many parents do this with their kids. If you demand things from your kids without warning, you implicitly send them a message that whatever they are choosing to do is not important. If you don't ask their opinion in order to seek buy-in you imply that their thoughts don't matter. I don't believe I have ever once asked my daughters to do anything in the past three years without asking them for their opinion first. Even if I am absolutely convinced that they need to do something, I will give them the freedom to decide when and how to do it.

Example: My track record on cleanliness is not all that great. It's something that I am trying to improve. My daughters learned this from me and never got into a habit of cleaning their room. But Mom took up the challenge and asked our daughters to come up with their own plan. That way we were not imposing ourselves on them. This helped achieve buy-in so they did a much better job of follow through without reminders.

3. Be persuadable means don't pretend you know what is best. Everyone is different. We all have unique strengths, interests, preferences, personality types, communication styles, wants, needs, and aspirations. We parents should be persuadable because we should accept that we don't know everything. Life is complicated. Everyone is complicated. When we parents accept that deep down then it makes our choice of words and the focus on our intent much more nuanced and subtle. We are less likely to come across as domineering and make a mistake. We show vulnerability and that helps our kids learn to be more vulnerable around us. Vulnerability is good because it shows we have the courage to adapt and be flexible to the wants and needs of others.

Example: Mom loves taking walks and exercising. She even got a Peloton Bike so we can keep exercising during our WEquil team meeting and student demonstrations. For a while Mom was worried that we were not getting enough of her type of exercise, but was persuaded by Sumay that her Taekwondo and walks with our dog left her feeling great! This left Sumay more open to at least trying out the Peloton.

4. Positive reinforcement is when we use good things to show our appreciation. For example, if we want our children to enjoy going on walks with us or sharing their struggles then we should make them feel good when they do these things. The opposite of positive reinforcement is negative making someone feel bad for not doing something we want. Negative reinforcement just doesn't work well with kids. We may end up getting what we wanted but at the cost of eroding the relationship.

Example: Aila really likes playing with Sumay. So she came up to her and said, "Sumay, would you please play legos with me?" Sumay said she was busy and this hurt Aila's feelings. We talked about it and determined that it's usually better not to put people on the spot and pressured them to do something. Sumay will want to play with Aila more if Aila tells her, "I really enjoy spending time with you. You're awesome!" This won't put Sumay in an awkward spot and instead gives her encouragement.

5. We do what we want. That's true for kids and adults. So at the end of the day no one can really be persuaded to do anything unless they believe it is in their own self interest. This is probably the single most important principle behind persuading young people that parents miss. You won't get your kid to consistently clean their room, build valuable relationships, explore new concepts, apply themselves, and achieve their potential unless...deep down...they believe that they want to do these things.

Example: My wife calls me "the Child Whisperer" because our daughters always seem to do what I want them to do. She asked me to tell her the "secret" ... so I suggested that next time she wants the kids to do something, tell them why they should want to do it. Aila didn't really enjoy doing her math...but we talked about how math is like "brain pushups" and can actually make you smarter. Jury is still out on this one...but I think she is coming around.


Kids will listen if their parents don't keep secrets, respect their time, are persuadable, and use positive reinforcement. Those are the foundations. Parents need to take the time to deeply explore why what they want for their kids is good for them. They can't just tell them what to do...or say "because I told you so" as a reason. Kids are also unlikely to care about things like impressing neighbors, cultural norms, or family precedents.

Show your child that what you want them to do will empower them and lead to a happier life. Only then can parents hope to show their children that they both want the same things. When kids accept that ... parents can move beyond "parenting" and create a more powerful partnership with their children than they ever thought possible.



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