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The terrible tale of Tithonus

Why taking the pressure off works better to get your child to cooperate than nagging or threatening.


Achilles Painter , Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When I was younger, I had a book of old Greek myths.

I loved that book, and read it over and over.

One of the stories that I still remember is the story of poor old Tithonus.

According to the legend, Tithonus was an extremely handsome man. In fact, he was so handsome that the goddess Eos kidnapped him in order to marry him.

But Eos was terrified that her pet would die. So she begged Zeus, the king of the gods, to make him immortal like her.

Zeus granted her wish...but there was a catch.

You see, Tithonus became immortal, but he still aged. So he got older and older, becoming more frail and feeble with each passing day. Finally Eos locked him in a room and forgot about him.

When I think about this story now, what strikes me most is how poor Tithonus's had no choice in this whole terrible affair. He didn't want to be immortal. He was just a pawn of the gods. Kidnapped by Eos, immortality forced on him, without having any say in what was done to him.

I was thinking about poor old Tithonus's lack of agency yesterday. You see, after reminding my son to pick up his new Bakugan toys for the umpteenth time, he shouted:

"The more you tell me to do it, the less I want to do it!"

This hit me. I realized that I was treating my son like Tithonus. I was taking away his power, and giving him no say in how and when to clean up after himself. And the more I increased the pressure for him to cooperate, the less he wanted to.

Dr. Hilary Mandzik, a licensed psychologist and host of the podcast Raised Resilient with Dr. Hilary, spoke about this idea when we interviewed her for our book How To Get Kids To Listen.

In the interview, she shared a simple technique she calls Taking The Pressure Off to give your kids more power while also getting them to cooperate.

Here's what you do. When your child doesn't want to cooperate, instead of increasing the pressure by nagging or threatening, Dr. Mandzik recommends reducing the pressure. For example, when they don't want to clean up their blocks, say "Okay, you know what, I'm just going to step out of the room for a minute. I don't know what's going to happen. Are you going to pick up the blocks? We'll see."

According to Dr. Mandzik, this works "like every single time, like a charm."

You can read the full interview with Dr. Hilary Mandzik - Why connection leads to cooperation - in our ebook How To Get Kids To Listen, available for free download here.

In addition to explaining “Taking the Pressure Off” technique, she also shares what your child’s “bad” behavior is telling you about them and why letting them feel their own negative emotions is important.