Parenting Tool #1 – Leverage

Most parents spend their lives caring for the needs of their children. But when they ask their children to do their part, they get resistance instead of cooperation.

The following information may be exactly what you’re looking for. Parenting tool #1 I call Leverage. With s few changes in your thinking, parents can actually inspire children to happily cooperate and it may be easier than you think.

Sound like a fantasy? Understandably it may, but it is also very possible if you can learn to see things differently by taking a few minutes to read this information. This is how it works: 

Rarely do children do what the parents want them to do because it’s the right thing to do or because they to repay the parents for all their efforts. More likely, children want to cooperate because is benefiting them in some way. So, if parents can keep this in mind, ythey can use Leverage to inspire children to want to make better choices. Following is the theory behind the tool:

Parents are legally obligated to take care of the general safety and well being of our children; to provide them with basic necessities such as food, clothing, protection, love and support. But, there are a lot of extra things that we do for them and give to them that we are not obligated to provide. All of those extras can be used for Leverage.

First be clear about the differences between basic need and extras. Below is a chart showing examples of both.  You can make your own list, as it may vary from mine.   

Basic Needs Extras
Basic clothing needs: 4 pairs of
basic pants, 6 shirts, 3 pajamas,
7 pairs of underwear, 2 pairs of
shoes. All this is for the
week, to be washed & used next week
Designer clothing and shoes
Basic Food: Three healthy meals a day Snacks, dessert
School extracurricular activities and
Video games, CDs, TV
Rides to school sports teams, clubs, 
training, etc.
Rides to a friend’s house, events,
the mall
Socialization with family and close
Parties, vacations
Love, acceptance, protection, medical
and dental needs
Entertainment activities
Money for necessities Extracurricular money

Leverage is only to be use with extras that only parents can give permission or provide, not for basic needs necessary for their survival and well being.

With that said, Leverage is not to be used as a means to control children, fulfill your dreams, choose their goals or to force them do immoral or illegal things. Never withhold love or make life choices that your children have the right to make for themselves such as who they will marry, the occupation they choose or where they attend college.

Leverage should only be used to inspire children to be accountable and responsible, to cooperate with family rules, do their part, be cooperative, responsible & kind, to get homework done, and things like that.

Leverage: The Tool

To begin using the tool, be sure children know the family rules and what is expected of them. Let’s say one of your family’s rules is that homework needs to be done before the kids can play or go anywhere after school.

So, one day, your child procrastinates getting his homework started after school. Instead of scolding or reminding him to do his homework, keep in the back of you mind what you know he should be doing and wait until your child wants one of those extras. When the opportunity arises, which it usually does, use it for Leverage. It will not be long before your child wants something from you.

Along comes the opportunity, “Mom, can I get a snack out of the pantry?”  Your child just unveiled what he wants and snacks are an extra, so now you have some leverage to work with. Instead of giving him what he wants and then asking him to get his homework done, your reply can be something like this, “YES, you can have a snack, just as soon as your homework is done.” 

If the issue is a chore the child has been evading you would say, “Sure, I’d love to get you that snack, just as soon as you have your chore(s) done.”

Take a look at what just happened: You did not say no did you? Normally a parent would say, “Well, you haven’t done your homework yet, so you can’t have a snack,” which will probably start a power struggle and whenever you get into a pwer struggle with their children, usually the kids end up winning. But you didn’t say no, you said, “Yes, just as soon as……” So you just eliminated the power struggle. Now it is up to the child whether or not he gets the snack. The child to decides and you remain calm.

Even if your child argues, “Why won’t you let me have snacks?” You casually reply, “I said you could have some snacks, I will get them for you just as soon as your homework is done!”

Guidelines for Parents:

1. Your facial expressions are pleasant, and the tone of your voice is calm. Your body language is open, supportive and enthusiastic to give your child what s/he wants just as soon as s/he complies.  

2. Keep in the back of your mind what you want the child to do and wait until the child wants an extra

3. When the child makes a request, you say, “YES, you can (___), just as soon as you (___).”

4. If the child declines the option being offered, you calmly return to what you were doing. You might even pleasantly say something like,“Okay, if that is your choice.”

5. Make sure these extras are not accessible to the children without your permission. 

6. Now, you just wait. How long do you think it’s going to be before this child wants another extra from you? Five, ten, twenty minutes? When that happens, do the same thing again. 

Here’s another scenario:

Child: Can I have a popsicle?

(Dad already has in mind what the child has been putting off doing and has been waiting for this opportunity to use Leverage)

Dad: (Pleasant tone of voice and look on face) “Sure, just as soon as you pick up your toys.”

Child: “I don’t want to pick up my toys.”

Dad: “Okay”

(Dad calmly returns to what he was doing.)

(Later)Child: “Dad, can I go to my friend’s house?”

Dad: (Smiling, pleasant and enthusiastic.) “Sure, I’d love for you to play with your friend, just as soon as you have those toys picked up, you can go!!”

Child: “But I don’t want to pick up my toys!!”

Dad: (Pleasant tone & look on face) “Okay.”

(Parent returns to what he is doing)

(Later) Child: “Dad, I’m hungry. Can I have a snack?”

Dad: (Enthusiastic) “Sure, just as soon as you pick up your toys.”

I think you get my drift.

This child is left with a choice. S/he can pick up the toys and get a popsicle and go to the friends house, or she can do without the extras and leave her toys on the floor. But after she gets the same reaction from dad several time, she will learn that if she just picks up her toys, she can get the extras she wants.

The scenario I just told you actually happened with me and my 4 year old grand daughter. After the third time of telling her, “Sure, just as soon as you pick up your toys….” I could see the cogs churning in her head. Suddenly she disappeared into the other room. A few minutes later she appeared with a huge smile on her face and announced proudly, “I picked up my toys grandma!!”

Sure enough, she had happily done the job and was very proud of herself. I complimented her for doing a very good job, put a popsicle in her hand and sent her across the street to her friends house.

Here’s even better news. It only took a few times taking that approach before she realized that if she picked up her toys, or took care of her other obligations, that when she asked for the extras, she would get them much faster and easier.

What if there is a deadline and the child is dragging his/her feet?

Child: “John’s family is having a BBQ in the park at 6:30. Can I go with them? 

Mom: “Sure, as long as your chores are done before you go.”

(Child procrastinates until after 6:00)

Child: “Can I still go? I’m going to miss it if you don’t let me go.”

Mom: “Sure, just hurry and get your chores done. You’ll be a little late, but you can catch most of it if you hurry.”

If the child has to hurry to get his jobs done, make sure you check the work. Some may think this is being too lenient on the child, or giving the child too many chances. Still, you are holding the child accountable and it teaches that if he puts his mind to it, he can get his jobs or other tasks done faster than he thinks and do them well.

When I was young I used to procrastinate to the last hour when I had a research paper due. I would be up until all hours of the night before it was due, and was very tired the next day but they got done and I usually did them very well.

Consequences of staying up all night eventually taught me it was easier to start sooner instead of cramming at the last minute. So it is not going to devastate your child to hurry up and get the work done quickly last minute, as long as it is done well. Your child still has the opportunity to learn to be accountable.

What if the child missed the event because s/he procrastinates so long?

Allow the responsibility to rest with the child. Yet with empathy, reassure your child that another occasion will come up and you are sure she will get her jobs done in plenty of time beforehand, so she can go.  If the child blames the parent, remind her gently, “I said you could go when your jobs were done. You had all afternoon to get them done and you chose not to do them. I’m sure you’ll make a better decision next time.” 

What if the answer has to be a NO?

Sometimes, there is no alternative other than a no; either, there isn’t enough time or resources to carry out a request. Then the no is given with heartfelt empathy. 

Example: “I wish we could afford to pay for summer camp, but we just don’t have the money.”  “Sorry. I wish you could go.” “You could go if you want to earn your own money.”

You might even suggest another option, “We can’t afford summer camp, but I can take you kids camping this summer.” Something like that.

Introducing Leverage to older children or teenagers

It takes way more patience to introduce Leverage to an older child, especially if s/he has been getting his way using tantrums and manipulation in the past. The key is to stay with the program and not allow the old tactics to sway you. Until your child understands you truly mean what you say, he may try the old tactics even harder before he learns they are not going to work.

Do nothing for the child, except meeting basic needs when he is acting inappropriately. When he reacts badly to the limits you set, refuse to react and return to whatever you were doing. The lesson he is learning is that the extras you do for him/her is 100% dependent on what he does first. Do not bend. Just give it time. Most of the time, this will work if you are committed and consistent.

I learned this tool only in time to implement it successfully with my youngest two children. They fought it at first but were over time began thinking things through before asking anything of me. They learned that what I did for them was dependent on their choices and behavior in advance. 

I would guess this is what they were thinking, “I really want to go out with my friends on Friday night and I know mom will let me go as long as I have my homework done and chores done (because they are well aware of the rules ahead of time) and I’ve gotten along with my sibs all week.”  And sure enough, when they had all their obligations met, and asked me permission for something, I would say something like, “Let’s see, your  grades are good, you’re on top of your homework, you got your chores done, you’ have been getting along great with your brother……by all means, go and have fun.”
Another thing I told them was that if they did what they said they were going to do, were with whom they told me they were going to be with, were back when they said they would be back or called me if they were going to be late, that they would earn more freedom than they knew what to do with. And that is exactly what happened.

How to use Leverage to inspire your children to get along

Scenario: Charlie is eight and his two little sisters are Megan and Carol. Charlie entertains himself by tormenting and making them cry. No matter what the parents did to correct him, the behavior continued……until now.
One day, Mom is at the store with all three kids. Charlie sees a toy he wants and pressures mom to buy it. Normally, mom would say no, and then succumb to his manipulation and buy it for him anyway. This time, mom is armed with Leverage.

Charlie: “Mom, can I have this cool toy? Please, please can I have it?”

Mom: (who has been waiting for this opportunity to inspire him to treat his sisters better) “That is a great toy. I’ll make you a deal. If you can be really, really nice to the girls for the rest of the day, I’ll come back tonight and buy the toy for you.”

Mom dangled a carrot in front of Charlie’s nose. He wants the toy, she wants him to treat his little sisters better.

Now, Charlie has his own motivation to treat his sisters well. Not only does it improve the peace between them for the rest of the day, but Charlie also realizes he can be nice to his sisters. Experiencing success even for half a day, could taught Charlie that it is possible to treat them nice and things go better when he does.

What if Charlie only makes it for 2-3 hours? Then, mom can start the time over and let him try again. Here is mom’s opportunity to get Charlie to try again to be nice to his sisters for a little longer: “Okay, you didn’t make it all the rest of the day. So how about if you start again right now and be super nice to your sisters until noon tomorrow? I’ll go buy that toy for you then.”
When allotting a time, consider the child’s maturity level and capacity.  For a young child, 2-3 hours may be all he can do. For an older child, it could be a whole day. For a teenager, maybe a week.

Let’s look at an example of Leverage with a teenager:

Teen: “Dad, can I borrow the car for a date on Friday?

Dad: (Dad already had prepared in his mind what he want for Leverage when the opportunity arose.) “Sure, if you can be really nice to the little kids this whole week, not only can you borrow the car but I’ll clean it for you as well.” 

Teen: “But, dad, a week is a long time! What if I can’t make it?”

Dad: (Smiling nice and trying to be helpful) “That’s okay. You can grab a ride with one of your buddies.”

Teen: “But their cars are not as nice as yours.”

Dad: (sincerely trying to help) “Well, you could take some money you have been saving for your snow board and rent a car. I’d be happy to sign for you as long as you’re paying.”

Teen: “But why should I spend my money on a car when you have such a nice one?”

Dad: “That’s a good question. Then I guess you’ll have to figure out a way to treat the little kids nice this week so you can drive mine.”

No lectures! No arguing! He is actually trying to help his son out. All the while, dad knows he has Leverage because he owns a nice car that his son wants to impress his date with, and dad doesn’t flinch an inch on what is required to use it. The dad even offers his son another option if he does not succeed in treating his sisters well; he can still go, just not in his father’s car.
The main thing is that dad remains upbeat, positive and supportive; letting his teen decide for himself if he wants to pay the price to use the car or look for another option.

The WRONG way to do Leverage

Do not up the ante once Leverage has been set. Using the example above, maybe the son is being nice to the younger kids for the week, but now dad wants him to study more for an upcoming exam on Friday. If the dad were to keep adding requirements for the son, he may lose his Leverage. Keep your agreement and let that be enough. If the son can be nice to his younger siblings for a week and is able to use dad’s car, that was successful. Save those grades for another Leverage with something else.

Years ago, I was coaching a young mother, and she had a daughter whom we will call Sophie. Even though the other children did their chores quickly, Sophie resisted every time. There was an obvious power struggle going on between Sophie and her mother.

After explaining Leverage to the mother, I suggested that she set a time in the afternoon to play games with all the family. The rule was that all the kids who got their chores done, got to play games with the family.

She set 4:00 as the time and when 4:00 came around, everyone had done their jobs but Sophie. But now that the games had started, she wanted to play. The mother flatly told her daughter she couldn’t play because she didn’t get her jobs done. As you might imagine, Sophie cried and complained that her mother always mistreated her.

I advised the mother privately to take a different approach by encouraging Sophie to hurry and get her jobs done quickly so she could play, but the mother would not budge. Ultimately, I believe she just wanted to punish Sophie by missing out on game time. It was obvious that Sophie was hurt and disappointed. I wouldn’t be surprised if a big chunk of her self esteem was chipped off with her mothers need to punish her instead of giving her incentive to finish her jobs so she could participate.

Let’s go back and create a scenario of how it should have ended.
Mom: “We are going to have family game time at 4:00. Anyone who has their jobs done can join us.” (Notice she didn’t say “Anyone who has their jobs done by 4:00 can play with us.” The message is different.)
The time comes, and everyone has their jobs done but Sophie. Everyone starts playing but Sophie because her jobs aren’t done.

Sophie: “Hey, I want to play.”Mom: (With great enthusiasm and sincerity) “We want you to play, too!! So, hurry and get your jobs done so you can play with us.”Sophie: “But I don’t want to do my jobs.”Mom: (With sincere empathy) “I know you don’t like doing your jobs, but if you want to play with us, you’ll need to get them done. Hurry, so you won’t miss too much.”
Sophie disappears to the other room, obviously doing her jobs and is all smiles when she returns about 15 min later.Sophie: “I’m done!!”Mom: (Enthusiastic) “Great! We’ve been missing you. I’ll come and check your work really fast so you can come and play with us.”

(Mom checks the work. If it is up to their normal standard, Sophie can join in the games immediately. But, let’s say Sophie only got about half of her work done.)

Mom: (Remaining positive and encouraging) “Hey, this is looking really good. Just get that sink finished and put all the rest of the clothes in the hamper and (whatever else is undone) and then you can come and play! Let me know when you’re ready for me to check again.”Sophie: (Ten minutes later) “I’m ready for you to check my work.”Mom: (pleased) “Hang on kids, I’ll be back in just a minute.”

This time Sophie has her chores done adequately. Mom quickly checks and is excited that Sophie is joining in the games. 
This is a win/win for all. Sophie has just proven to herself that she can get her jobs done well and in a short amount of time. Mom taught Sophie that she wants her to succeed, that she is not going to budge on her rule, and best of all, that she wants Sophie to join the game thus keeping her self-esteem in tact. 

As it turned out, Sophie did not miss very much of game time and still had a lot of fun. However, if she had dragged it out and not completed her jobs during game time, that would have been her choice. Mom would have shown sincere empathy that she missed the fun, but that she believes Sophie will make better choices next time. And next time, mom does not mention anything to Sophie about not getting her jobs done the last time and missing part of game time. Mom simply tells the kids, “We’re playing games at 4:00. If your jobs are done and okayed by me, you can play with us.”

Can you see how this works so much better than “NO, you can’t play games because you didn’t get your work done!”?

Children misbehaving while driving in a car

The car makes a great place to use Leverage because the adult driver has full control of the vehicle. If the kids are fighting, getting out of their seat belt, making messes or anything that distresses you, the driver need only pull the car over, turn off the motor and just sit there—in a safe place, of course.

After a few moments, the kids will probably become curious as to why mom/dad stopped the car and is just sitting there. When they start asking why you are not driving, simply reply: “I’m going to sit here until “all the seat belts are buckled,” “everyone is getting along,” “you stop throwing things” or whatever the case may be.

When it is obvious that the children have chosen to cooperate, you simply start the car again and proceed. If the same behavior starts again, do the same thing. No yelling, threatening, preaching, or anything of the old punitive stuff. Just stop the car, sit there and wait until they are cooperating and then proceed. 

If there is a time deadline, stopping the car may make you late. You may just end up being late. But if the kids have motivation to make the time deadline, they will probably be encouraging those who are out of line to cooperate so they can get there on time.

The caveat to this approach is if you are taking them somewhere they don’t want to go, like to the doctor for a shot. In that case, using an incentive will work better such as, “If you’ll go to the doctor without a fight, we can play in the park afterwards for an hour.”

Be creative

I can’t tell you what to do in every scenario that may come along, but if you stick to the guidelines I’ve given you in this article, you will have a lot of power to improve the choices made by your children.
Instead of just giving them a birthday party, have them earn it. How about, maintaining a grade point average of at least a 3.5, they get to have a birthday party. If they choose not to do that, they still get their birthday celebrated, but it will just be a private celebration at home with family members. Birthday parties with friends and the works are not basic needs. They are an extra that can be earned by good behavior.

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