They’re Among Our First Words


If you’ve raised kids then you’ll surely remember the first words spoken by your children. For many the first word was “mama” or “papa.” I’ll bet a couple of words that followed rather quickly were “no” and “mine.”
The picture is clear – your cute, cuddly, loving child gives you a defiant stare one day and says, “No!” to your request. Or you ask them to share and you hear, “Mine!” Quite often tears followed.
You’re taken aback because you assumed only other people’s kids acted like that, not your sweet little Johnny or Susie. But alas, you’re child is no different and has displayed a part of humanity that’s within all of us. You see, kids who do this aren’t bad; they’re simply reacting to the psychological principle of scarcity.
This principle of influence tells us people want more of what they can’t have and more of things they perceive to be going away. When your child says “no” or “mine,” they’re reacting to what they perceive to be the threat of loss.
“No” usually comes after we’ve asked them to do something and they think they’ll lose the freedom to do what they want. For example, going to bed means losing the freedom to stay up and watch television.
“Mine” comes when we want them to give up something they think is theirs. An example would be; we want them to share the toy they’re playing with but that means they can’t play with it as much as they want. Sometimes they’re not even playing with the toy but once they feel they can’t play with it then they want it all the more.
This doesn’t change much as we grow older. I noticed this in myself not long ago. Our neighbor converted from a regular fireplace to gas and gave us his leftover firewood. He’d always allowed us to take whatever wood we needed but since he wouldn’t need it any longer we moved it from his yard to ours.
We used some throughout the spring so there wasn’t too much left and then one day Jane said another neighbor came and took some wood with her permission. I felt the sting of loss. In my mind I thought, “What?!” It was a selfish thought and as I analyzed why I felt that way this thought occurred to me – if we’d never “taken” the wood and just kept grabbing what we needed I never would have felt like I was losing something. Our neighbor giving it to us and then our moving it to our yard made it feel like it was mine. There it is, that word, “mine.” Suddenly someone else taking some wood – something they’d always done with our neighbor’s permission – made me feel like I lost something.
Quite often we label this as selfishness. Telling someone they’re being selfish probably isn’t the best way to motivate them to change. It’s like telling someone who performed badly, “You suck.” Would you feel like changing if you heard that all the time? Instead of changing you’d probably resent the person saying it. So what can you do?
First, recognize it in yourself. When we see our own shortcomings that usually makes us soften our approach to others.
Second, recognize the reaction you feel is a natural psychological phenomenon. Being motivated by scarcity, like many of the principles of influence, served a survival purpose at one point in time. It still serves a purpose today because there are certain opportunities we want to take advantage of before they go away.
Third, move away from the selfish label and use it as a learning opportunity.


Finally, praise your child when they
do the right thing. That might be sharing or it could be simply
doing whatever you ask even if it comes at a small cost to them. If your
request happens to cause an emotional outburst try to empathize with them about
making a hard choice.
These small changes can make big differences in how your child responds to you. You may not get the desired result right away but don’t give up. Take the long view and trust that taking these four simple steps will lead to much better communication between you and your child and that will pay big dividends in the long run.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.
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