I really like to use what John Rosemond calls “Grandma’s Rule” which is, You may get what you want after you do what I want you to do.
I think this can be used with kids a good deal younger than most people think. It is especially useful for things like getting kids to pick up their toys. I routinely have my 3-year-0ld pick up his toys or puzzles before he gets his mid-morning snack, for example. Or, if my son asks for a toy that’s tucked away in our storage area, I am more than happy to get it out for him after he puts away what he has been playing with.
All in all, after a certain age (three, perhaps), I have never found it acceptable for my son to refuse to do as he’s asked, assuming it’s a reasonable request. This applies to things like putting away his toys, brushing his teeth, taking a bath, and, nowadays, doing his routine of four daily chores. Grandma’s Rule works hand-in-hand with these sorts of things.
A twist on Grandma’s Rule can be used for certain “battles” that are bound to come up with toddlers and preschoolers. For example, my son sometimes makes an issue out of putting his shoes on (which are velcro, and he can manage entirely on his own). In order to take away the audience and power struggle aspect of things, I will put him in his room or in the bathroom with his shoes, with the instructions to come out after he’s put his shoes on. In other words, you can do whatever you want (come out of the bathroom) after you’ve done what I want you to do (put on your shoes). [This suggestion was given to me personally by John Rosemond, and I thank him for it.] This strategy works very well the vast majority of the time.
It drives me batty to see someone else, like my mother-in-law, hover over him and try to “talk him into” doing as he’s told. Giving even more attention to a child who is being defiant (let’s call a rose, a rose) just adds fuel to the fire. Better to remove yourself, a.k.a. the audience, from the equation, and let the child work things out himself, whenever possible.
These strategies are wonderful ways for me to keep my cool, which is at the root of being a good leader. Instead of hovering over and micromanaging my son, I try to remember to give him an instruction and walk away, leaving him to do things on his own. If he chooses not to follow instructions, he will not get what he wants.
After all, isn’t this how the real world works?