Expert Parenting Advice
Practical parenting tips and advice from experts around the world

How to ensure you always win

Why you need to prepare for your child misbehaving instead of just reacting when it happens.

This morning, I was "doing some research" on Youtube, when I found an old clip from one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride.

Imagine this: The heroic-looking Wesley is sitting opposite his nemesis, the evil Vizzini.

Wesley has 2 cups in his hands. He turns his back, and puts poison in one of them.

He turns back and places one cup in front of himself, and one cup in front of Vizzini, saying, "The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right and who is dead."

Now, Vizzini has to decide which cup to drink from. There is no way of knowing. But he comes up with a smart solution...

Suddenly Vizzini points to something behind Wesley and says, "What in the world can that be?"

Wesley turns around, and Vizzini quickly switches the cups.

Wesley turns back, Vizzini picks up the cup in front of himself, and Wesley picks up the cup in front of him. As he takes a drink, he carefully watches Wesley to see if he hesitates to drink from his own cup. He doesn't, so Vizzini takes a sip from Wesley's original cup, a confident smile on his face.

Wesley looks at him, smirking "You guessed wrong."

"You only think I guessed wrong. I switched glasses when your back was turned!" he laughs at Wesley.

Then he falls over, dead.

Turns out Wesley poisoned both cups, but had been building up an immunity to the poison for several years.

The lesson? To ensure you always win, you need to be prepared for difficult situation well before they happen.

That's the same advice Dr. Ross Greene shared when we interviewed him for our book How To Get Kids To Listen.

Dr. Greene is the New York Times bestselling author of the influential books The Explosive Child, Lost at School, Lost and Found, and Raising Human Beings.

When I asked Dr. Greene about how to deal with my emotional child throwing a tantrum, he said:

Well, the best thing you can do is not have these conversations in the heat of the moment. That’s when emotions are running high.

One of the things we’re doing in this model is we’re having parents make a list of every expectation a child is having difficulty reliably meeting. And that makes those problems predictable. And that means that those problems can be solved proactively. And that means that we’re very good at helping parents get out of the heat of the moment.

Dr. Ross Greene

Being proactive about the problems you know are coming means that you have a plan to deal with them when they happen, instead of just reacting emotionally. It means you can rationally think about how you want to deal with your child's behavior, instead of just acting instinctively.

In the interview, Dr. Greene also explains why you need to focus on your child's problems instead of their behavior, and why punishment or consequences don't work.