Creative Parenting – Motivating Through Metaphors

by Jeff Dwarshuis LMSW ACSW

The direct discipline approach with kids doesn’t always work. Parents can however use UNUSUAL yet effective communication techniques to get increased control of their kids (AND ADULTS!).


One of the best times to give a suggestion to someone is after you tell them a story. Applying this idea to parenting can be very helpful in facilitating change. Follow these steps – First, think of a behavior in one of your children that you want changed ( I want Joe to go to school) Second, think about what personal characteristic the child needs to improve to make this happen (ambition). Third, think of a time (story) in the past when he was ambitious and fearless. Forth, come up with a similar but unrelated story to use as your introduction that highlights or supports your main point. This first story will cause the listener to think more deeply and make connections. For example –
“Joe, I remember a time when your cousin was so interested in pleasing his boss. He wanted to do well at his job and get a promotion. He got to work early every day and even though he was new at the job he learned all he could until he felt comfortable. I remember when you did that when you learned to swim. You were scared but you got ready on time. I brought you there and you jumped right in to the pool.”
Stories as such are meant to make people think and come up with their own answers. If you simply tell someone what to do it can be resisted and easily forgotten.
Make sure to not explain yourself. If the child asks “Why are you telling me this?” just change the subject. Explaining it would be simplifying what is going on in the child’s thinking.
The best time to tell the story is close to the time when the parent and child were talking about the problem…going to school. Allow enough time to make it appear like a different topic but close enough that the child can make the association…perhaps 10-20 seconds.

All ideas are taken from Jay Haley’s book – “Uncommon Therapy: The Psychiatric Techniques of Milton H. Erickson”.




2 thoughts on “Creative Parenting – Motivating Through Metaphors”

  1. omg my dad LOVED this book…He was a therapist…and would tell us some of the uncommon techniques Erickson would use to change behaviours…I remember one about a man was too afraid to drive out of town. so Ericson had him stop at every telephone pole and do 10 pushups….he had to stop at every single one…well the guy did it for several poles then said screw this! and kept driving….My dad thought almost everything could be fixed by changing behavior…i think i need some emdr to get over it haha!

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