How to Make Sure Your Kid Only Uses Positive Behaviors to Get What He Wants

Dear Kid Whisperer,

Here’s the scenario…

My husband asks my kids if they’d like a milkshake. My 10-year-old poutily says no, as he is already cranky for unrelated reasons. As we pull into the drive-thru, he says, “Ok. I’ll have one.” in a tone that suggests he’s doing it as a favor. How do you respond? -Karen, Miami, Florida


Never, ever, ever allow your kid to get what they want by using a negative behavior.


What is a negative behavior? A behavior that YOU think causes a problem, according to your value structure. No one else’s opinion of whether it is a negative behavior matters.

In looking at your question, it seems like you feel that the way that he asked for the milkshake caused a problem, in that you felt that it was rude, and rudeness causes a problem for you. Therefore, you absolutely, positively cannot get him the milkshake without him changing the way that he asked for the milkshake.

You may feel that it caused such a serious problem, in your estimation, that you want to deliver the consequence of not getting the milkshake. Whether you do this is dependent on your value structure and on how often your kid is this rude. If he is consistently this rude, you should be using a consequence. He will learn very quickly not to be rude in this situation again if you use this consequence and refrain from lecturing or using anger. This is what I would say:

Kid Whisperer: Oh no, I only buy stuff for kids who ask politely. No milkshake for today, but I will give you another chance on another day.


Kid Whisperer: And what did I say?

If you feel like this was probably just a one-time thing, or that he just slipped up, you STILL cannot give him the milkshake without him using kind words to get the milkshake. Here’s how to set the limit without anger, lectures, or too many words:

Kid Whisperer: I buy stuff for kids who use kind, polite words. You can try again if you like.

He has exactly 10 seconds to ask politely, or until the fast food person asks what you would like, whichever comes first. If he asks rudely again, simply ask the following question:

Kid Whisperer: Who do I buy stuff for?

…and buy yourself a big, delicious milkshake.

Teaching your kid to use positive, pro-social behaviors is significantly more important than whether or not they are able to ingest a dessert. Kids are not entitled to milkshakes, but they are required to behave in a way that doesn’t drive their parents nuts.