A Classic Manipulation Trick To Make Kids Want To Do Their Homework

This is pretty brilliant.

boy doing homework Ann in the uk / Shutterstock

Everyone's kids get out of control sometimes. Did you notice that telling them what to do and being authoritative makes it even worse? It often does. The more we push, the more they refuse.

So when they resist a task, like doing their homework, try to use this manipulation technique.

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You might be familiar with the classic psych trick where a doctor would ask a child whether they want to get one shot of a vaccine or two. They always pick "one." Why is this a trick and how does it work?


The main goal is to reduce resistance to a task. The doctor’s question introduces a false choice. One shot in your arm or two?

You are now focused on the decision instead of shots and needles. You also feel in control since you had to use your judgment. On top of it, you are getting a "break" by opting in for only one shot instead of two.

It's a method of distraction that pulls you away from the main idea while also drawing you into the problem willingly.

  • "Do you want to complete homework for the week or just focus on the upcoming days?"
  • "Do you want to read the whole chapter tonight or just the first five pages?" (You want the five pages.)
  • "Would you like to finish the whole essay today or just begin with the outline?" (Writing an essay is a difficult task, and they have to get started early before they begin to procrastinate on it.)

Here, we were using a fake choice. Nobody picks the first choice (do all the homework, read the whole chapter, finish an essay in one sitting) anyway. That method will work with younger kids. They are a little easier to fool.


If they do pick the first choice, buckle up and enjoy the ride, but that's highly unlikely.

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When kids are older, offer choices, either of which would be acceptable to you. For example:

  • "We need to get these chores done before the party. Do you want to clean up your room or do the dishes?"
  • "You've got to prepare for your SAT tonight. Do you want to work on your Math or Reading Comprehension?"
  • "Do you want to type up your essay or write it by hand first?"

Both strategies give kids a sense of control while giving them a narrow window of options.

You are no longer telling them what to do, but instead, we are giving them options.


Older kids might understand what you're trying to do, but the technique still works regardless because giving them an option will still provide them with a benefit in case there's something they really don't want to do.

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Katya Seberson helps children improve their reading comprehension skills and overall ability to focus and get organized through her private practice in New York City.