Tricking with Kindness: How to use reverse psychology with your baby or toddler without doing any harm

Mom holding happy baby in nature

Reverse psychology – used with complete compassion and kindness – can be one of the most powerful and kind tools to help babies and toddlers thrive. I use it a lot and with great success to help solve baby sleep problems but you can use it for good in other areas too.

But sadly, when mis-used, reverse psychology can also become ugly, manipulative and utterly unfair. Because simply put, classic reverse psychology in childcare is about tricking a helpless child. And there’s nothing that breaks my heart more.

The BAD: Reverse psychology is when you make someone believe you expect from them the opposite of what you really expect. It triggers their innate drive to counteract and in that way tricks them into obeying you.

Luckily there are plenty ways to use it without being manipulative. And then it becomes a very powerful, very kind and very positive tool.

The GOOD: When used cleverly and with kindness, reverse psychology can help make small but powerful mindset shifts for your baby or toddler, and for yourself as a parent.

Let me show you how, with 3 examples. I call them the “I don’t care” show for parents, the “Don’t hold back” party and the “Silly Billy” parenting fun.

I work with each of these in my baby sleep counseling regularly. They’re positive, non-manipulative and work really well for most families so let’s have a look how to do it.

Example 1. The “I don’t care” show

This is very simple but I’ll admit, not always easy.

It’s when you as a parent frustrated with, say, your baby’s nightly wakings, decide to act as if you’re completely fine with it. You purposefully resist getting upset about it. You keep reminding yourself to accept it and to understand that your baby needs your help for now. And that you don’t care whether she sleeps all night through or doesn’t sleep a wink. And keep this up consistently for 2 weeks.

surprised baby with flushed cheeks

This isn’t an easy ask, I know, because you’re tired and frustrated. And you may be feeling things like “she should be able to sleep through by now”, “he can sleep through because she did it x weeks ago”, “if I help too much now, she’ll never learn to sleep on her own”.

All valid worries (though I can easily debunk each of them πŸ˜‰) but: you’ll set them aside for these 2 weeks. Because it’ll be more efficient in the end, if you let go of these worries now.

Because a beautiful thing happens when you master this “don’t care” thing: way less stress. Many parents literally report that they can “feel the stress melt away”.

There’s less stress for you simply because you allow yourself not to worry about it for now. Less stress for you instantly translates into less stress for your baby. And automagically that makes sleep easier as well.

Of course, there may be other sleep work to do such as self-soothing practice or solving common sleep problems, but this as a first step will put you waaaaaay ahead with everything else.

Example 2. The “Don’t hold back” party

This is for times when your baby or toddler is very clingy and seems to need you all the time, day or night, or whenever you’re home, can’t go to sleep without you, can’t re-settle without you etc. etc.

Needing you close can be an ongoing part of your baby’s personality or a phase linked with separation anxiety development, a reaction to you starting work again after maternity leave, the arrival of a new sibling or similar.

If your reaction so far has been to try and wean your baby off this, and to try and build independence by spending less time with him or her: see what happens do the exact opposite for a while: “Don’t hold back”.

Meaning that for a while you give your little guy or girl all the attention, holding, feeding, playing and carrying he/she’d like, and even more.

Over-do it.

That’s when the reverse psychology does its work, in one of the most positive ways possible. Feeling that no-restraints attention helps put your baby at ease: attention in abundance makes it less must-have-more-must-have-more. Just a week or so of this – you’ll know if your child needs more – can give your baby or toddler enough confidence to be OK with less again.

Example 3. “Silly Billy” parenting fun

This one’s plain fun! Just remember to stay on the nice side by always being honest and open.

A few examples but I’m sure you’ll find your own:

  • Nooooo you can’t sleep in your big kid bed yet” (when your toddler’s still in your room or a baby crib and you feel they’re ready for their own)
  • I’m gonna wear your PJs tonight” (when changing into PJs has become a fight)
  • Noooooo daddy won’t bring you to bed tonight” (when you want it to be daddy’s turn but he/she’s not having it)
Small chat icon for comments

How about you? Do you, or would you, use reverse psychology sometimes, or never?

Leave a comment with 1 specific example of how you use reverse psychology in your family. Or which one you’d like to try!

My personal favorite is the second one: “Don’t hold back”. It can seem a little counterintuitive at first but it can feel so good once you can trust the process, and feel how powerful it becomes.

Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!
Lots of love, x Heidi

Heidi Holvoet, PhD is the award-winning author, baby sleep consultant and founder of Baby-Sleep-Advice.com. With warm, kind, never-judging and truly no-tears advice (no hidden CIO, ever!), Heidi helps families worldwide achieve more and healthier sleep, and sleep skills to last a life-time. Sign up to receive Heidi's FREE Audio Training: 3 No-Tears Strategies to Help Your Baby Sleep Better

9 Comments

  1. Jennifer | | Reply

    All of your advice is helpful 😍

    • Heidi Holvoet | | Reply

      Aww thank you Jennifer, that means so much, thank you!! πŸ™

  2. Adriana | | Reply

    Great post. I’m going to try #2

    • Heidi Holvoet | | Reply

      Thanks Adriana! πŸ™ Curious to see how that’ll go, best of luck!

  3. Shandra | | Reply

    Love #2! This works well for us. She gets lots of extra extra love and attention and each time she becomes more independent. Great advice, Heidi!

    • Heidi Holvoet | | Reply

      Me too Shandra, #2! Great to hear how well it works for you: it’s a great double win right? Extra love + increased independence πŸ‘Œ Thanks for your comment!!

  4. Akilaa | | Reply

    I definitely use this more for other stuff like drinking milk. As you said it’s very tricky to implement !

    • Heidi Holvoet | | Reply

      Glad to hear you’re using this Akilaa, interesting! And I agree, drinking and eating are quite similar to sleeping in at least 2 crucial ways: super important and impossible to be forced.

      With tricky to implement, are you referring to what you already do, e.g. with milk, or for sleep relating things, or other stuff still?

      In any case, I hope you’re having all the success in the world with them! x Heidi

  5. Greet Roose | | Reply

    It was a time ago we had toddlers, but we always used this technics and especially number 2, we never regretted it. Our children always got extra attention, you can’t spoil them enough with love!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *