False Assumption 3: Anger Motivates

by | False Assumptions Series

It is my anger that finally motivates my kids to obey.

How often have I heard this one?  However, when you stop to think about it, this is a reasonable assumption that kids can make that seems to actually take on a bit of truth when the following pattern develops:

Mom instructs her kids to pick up all their toys before they start their favorite TV program.  Two minutes later, the still fairly patient parent repeats her request- but this time with just a bit more exclamation and decibel in her voice.

Five minutes later, the somewhat more impatient parent returns, and much to her dismay, sees that the chore of picking up the toys has still not been accomplished.

This time, our now disgruntled mom yells at the top of her lungs, “I told you three times to pick up your toys.  Now this time, do it!”.  And sure enough, this time, they do it.  They pick up their toys. Sure seems at first glance that the introduction of a little out of control anger was the missing ingredient the first several times, since, when finally it was included in the instructions, the toys got picked up.

So, it is easy to assume that the motivating variable was indeed anger. The trouble is that it was not.

Although at first glance it might look like it, the new motivating ingredient added the third time was not Mom’s anger, but rather, the understanding the kids finally had that Mom now meant it. In the past experiences, she never has really meant what she said until she said it with anger.  This is because from countless past experiences, they learned that when Mom asked nicely the first time, she didn’t really mean to pick up the toys NOW, because they knew she would be back three or four more times before she would convey via her anger that now, she really did mean it.

Rather than anger being the motivating factor, the real influence for obedience kicks in when kids figure out, “Mom really means it this time, so we’d better comply”. The trouble is that in the incident described above, Mom’s anger was paired with her (this time) really meaning it; without the anger, they still had several more requests and warnings to come before they had to comply.  So they didn’t.

The real motivating factor, then must be that, “Mom really means it”, but without pairing her request with her anger. The trick, then is to communicate the first time in a way that convinces them that, although the anger is not present, “I think Mom really means it the first time”.


Suggestion: Learn ways to show them by your words and actions that you mean what you say the first time and before anger has entered the picture (as usual, easier said than done, but a necessary goal nonetheless).




  1. 10 Common Parenting False Assumptions - Ed Wimberly - […] It is my anger that finally motivates my kids to obey. […]

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