The 3 Secret Persuasion Techniques
Every Kid Knows

Cute Kid

You’ve been working on your blog and need a break. So you kiss your spouse and head out the door for a walk.

But your child’s voice stops you cold.

“Are you bringing home the toy you promised?”

You feign ignorance. “Toy? What toy?”

Your child smiles, face full of expectation. “The Power Space Commando Ninja Mutant Brain Blaster!”

“Um … I’m just going for a walk.”

“But you promised.”

Ouch! You did promise a few days ago.

“Well, we’ll see. Okay?”

Your child’s face screws up in dismay. “But you promised! (sniffle) You proooomised! And I believed you!”

You hang your head in defeat and grab your car keys. “Okay. Okay. I’ll run to the toy store. All right?”

The little face lights up again. “Really? Allriiiight! Thank you thank you thank you.”

Two minutes later as you drive away, you see your child waving frantically at you from the front window, eyes wide with glee. And you’re asking yourself, “What just happened?”

Sound familiar?

Kids know something that you and I often forget. They have a secret, but deviously clever way to get just about anything they want. Like a good sales person, this child used three simple principles to generate a “yes” response.

1. If you want something from someone, ask for it.

My wife used to be subtle about gifts she wanted. She would walk me by a store and comment on the leather purse in the window. Or she might leave a catalog open on the coffee table, the corner of the page turned down, pointing to a bracelet. Then she would be flabbergasted on the big day when she tore back the wrapping paper to reveal a bread maker or battery-powered socks.

She has learned that a direct approach works best. Now, she writes down her wish list, complete with price, color, size, store location, and item number. I buy two or three of the items, wrap them, and hand them over on the big day, all the while thinking I’m clever for getting just what she wants.

Everyone is happy.

The child in my previous example knows what he wants and asks for it. Repeatedly. There’s no question. No confusion. It’s clear, direct communication.

2. If you want someone to do something, give a reason why they should act.

In a famous experiment, a psychology student tried to skip ahead of a long group of people waiting to use an office copier. The first time, the student walked to the head of the line and asked, “May I please use the copy machine?” Between choice expletives, most people told the student to go to the back of the line.

Later, the student tried again. Only this time the student said, “May I please use the copy machine because I have to make a copy?” Even though the reason given was meaningless, that one word (because) generated a “yes” nine out of ten times!

It’s a natural human instinct to want reasons to act. We make emotional decisions, but we temper those decisions and rationalize them with logic. We need to know the reason why. In our opening story, the child not only asks for the toy, but gives a good reason for prompt action: “You promised.”

Why use a reason? Because it gets results.

3. If you want something now, create a real and unavoidable time limit.

Sales reps know from experience that people are more inclined to give you what you want if you establish a time limit and ask for an immediate decision. People have difficulty making decisions, and given enough time, they will find reasons to say “no.” Limiting the decision-making time, and bypassing the opportunity to find negatives, makes “yes” more likely.

Car salesmen running a one-day “mark down event” know this. Store owners promoting a “Saturday Only” sale know this. And experienced bloggers and online entrepreneurs know this, too.

The wily child waits until the parent is walking out the door before asking for the toy. There’s no time to think. Say no, and you get a crying fit. Say yes, and, while you may have to make a trip to the store, you’ve maintained the peace.

The conclusion? If you want response and you want it now, make like a kid asking for a toy.

  1. Ask for it.
  2. Give a reason.
  3. Create time pressure.

About the Author: Dean Rieck is a leading direct marketing copywriter. For more copywriting and selling tips, sign up for Dean’s FREE direct response newsletter or subscribe to the Direct Creative Blog.

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Reader Comments (49)

  1. says

    Laughing at this one. Copyblogger’s on a roll lately.

    Dean, you’re dead on. Children have a way of getting what they want even when not being whiny or tantrummy (yes, I know that’s not a real word) because they don’t use the same filters that we as adults to. They are direct and therefore often experience the benefits of their candor. On the flip side, getting children to do what we want them to do is a lot easier when we convince them of benefits rather than features.

  2. says

    I definitely am going to try this one day :) Nice article. Also remembered me about what I used to say when I was a kid.

  3. says

    “Ask and you’ll receive; seek and you’ll find; knock and the door will be opened for you.”
    Luke’s Gospel, New Testament

    “But when (you) ask, (you) must believe and not doubt, because (when you) who doubt, you become like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”
    Book of James, New Testament

  4. Elizabeth says

    Know what’s funny? As a former TV producer, I used these three concepts every day to get people to agree to come on air and reveal things they wouldn’t even tell their closest friends and relatives. Great post!

  5. says

    Wow… that puts the topic in a different light. It seems so simple when put that way. Amazingly simple concepts that we adults make overly complicated. It’s amazing how we lose that skill over the years. Great post and hopefully I’ll remember it.

    Jeremy @

  6. says

    Looove this post. Kids are masters at getting what they want. I think another advantage they have is just dead honesty. Even when they’re lying, there’s something so genuine about them.

    I’d also like to know where I can get these battery-powered socks. Please advise.

  7. says

    Dean, Thank you for pointing out that the time limit needs to be “real and unavoidable.” It drives me nuts to read sales letters that talk about limited availability or temporary discounts that are completely bogus. Talk about the boy who cried wolf!

  8. says

    I remember using these same techniques when I was a kid (I just had to have every single G.I. Joe). You’d think that after years in the sales field I’d remember this stuff. But like Jeremy said, we adults make things complicated.

    I’m putting out a personal challenge for everyone to simplify everything to it’s simplest form.

    I guess that’s why great coaches always say “Stick to the basics”

    Great post Dean.

    C.A. Simmons –

  9. says

    Out of all these steps 2 is the most important. Skip that one and all else fails. Be sure it’s a “because” that matters – otherwise your ask is DOA. – You’re welcome! – L

  10. says

    Is that my son you were talking about? He always drives me nuts when he does that, so it’s nice that I can now thank him for the copywriting lesson. 😉

  11. says

    Spot on. My kids teach me about people every day. They are so direct in their desires that everything you need to know about human nature and why people do what they do is right there in their honest little voices. Great post.

  12. Diane says

    Janet: It doesn’t get any better when they’re teenagers. They get more sophisticated about it, but they’re still employing the same techniques. Plus, by that time, they’re *really* mastered that Manipulative Guilt stuff. (Acck!) And, on that note, I’d better go download that CD I promised my older son….

  13. says

    Thanks for the post Dean, the parent/child context always makes it easy to identify with the content you are communicating… those poor people that have piles of money and time but no kids.

    @Jlibbey – agreed that the way in which the message is communicated makes a difference. Sometimes this conflicts with the introduced scarcity of Item #3. Sometimes scarcity makes the pitch less believable. Sales isn’t as simple as portrayed above, but these points will help someone starting out.

  14. says

    Simple, concise, and legitimate advice.

    For some reason, we can get so caught up in more complicated approaches in attempting persuasion. As with most things, it helps to go back to the bare essentials to refocus on what really works.

    Good post, Dean.

  15. says

    Having a background in marketing, this concept is very familiar to me. The time pressure thing really does work. It’s an effective call to action. Now, I’m off to get myself a Power Space Commando Ninja Mutant Brain Blaster. It sounds fun!

    Great post. Thanks.

  16. says

    Great article Dean! I see a lot of adcopy use the scarcity technique so I see why it works. But for me, that’s the one thing that makes me click away from the offer BECAUSE (lol) it creates a sense of desperation from the seller. What makes me think they’re going to end the offer anytime soon when he/she needs a lot of people to buy into it? And…if there’s a great response to it, why wouldn’t they offer it again?? Means more money again right? LOL I like when it stops at “Buy it now and you get such and such offers for free or an additional percentage off” type thing rather than the hurry up before it’s gone. :-)

  17. Michelle Geffken says

    Interesting post. True marketing ideas. Shame that the analogy fits so many grotty kids today.

  18. says

    @Mary Leedy, LOL! I know what you mean. But…our $19.99 Champion sports bra sale really is going to end on 4/26. (The brand folks only let us do it twice a year.) There will be another promotion after that one, but the bra sale’s the best of the best, so the urgency really is real. Which reminds me that I haven’t bought my own bras with my employee discount yet, LOL!

  19. says

    Love this post! it is so true! I am about to become a mom – so I guess I can look forward to more marketing lessons 😉

  20. says

    Great post, Dean. Now can you please explain how my Jack Russell Terriers send me out for bones by the silent use of big eyes, tilted heads and paws on my knee?! :)

  21. says

    I know you’re joking, but actually there’s a specific principle involved with your dog. Humans are hard wired to respond to the facial appearance of babies – big eyes, head tilt, etc. Popular pets often have this look. And dogs are smart enough to learn to use it.

    I’ve done TV ad tests with a child sponsorship organization. We tested different kid faces. The ones that got the best response had that baby look.

  22. says

    It may work on the masses…but some of these specific things incite me to resist purchasing. At the very least, I resist through the time pressure.

    The big eyes…heh…my son is turning two, so he might change my anti-kids-market-to-me attitude.

  23. says

    Agreeing with Dean for the “big eyes, head tilt, etc.” Otherwise the Puss in Boots (Shrek movie) won’t get such a huge ‘AAwwww…’ at that particular scene. Don’t get too easily deceived with that cute look though. Although I do have to applaude for your creativity for bringing out the message in a cute way. Kids, so natural with it; maybe we could learn a thing or two.

  24. says

    Great points listed in this post. However, reasons 1, 2, and 3 have nothing to do with why the parent caved. They went to the store to get the toy because of unlisted reason #4.

    4. Create expectations and responsibilities early. The situation was written in stone when the kid asked for the toy the first time, and the parent obliged without putting much thought into it. The promise to the kid was a mutual agreement to exchange one thing (a desire, happiness) for another (a toy). Realizing that the parent was about to leave the house, possibly to the place where that toy could be purchased, it was only natural for the child to remind them about the agreement. The parent will feel guilty if they don’t follow through on that promise. It makes them feel like a dishonest person. It breaks trust.

    Experienced salespeople also know to do this with customers. By asking simple questions early on, you create agreements and establish expectations, often before the person even knows it’s a real sales pitch. Study some cold calling techniques and you will see this employed over and over.

  25. says

    Wow, @kenop, you hit the nail on the head! I actually try not to promise my son stuff, but I have a hard time saying no to him (much harder than saying “no” to a salesperson).

    I’ll have to study that technique, cause it’s definitely the trust issue that causes me to give in *after* I’ve made the promise. If I don’t keep my promise, he learns that his mom is not trustworthy, which is scary for a kid, and he’ll also learn indirectly that it’s okay for him and others not to be trustworthy.

    Oh, and at 13, he still has the cuteness to get his own way. 😉

    Not sure how to do this with clients, but I’m going to study it.

    Or maybe I’ll just let my son do the selling for me. Ha ha.


  26. says

    Too true. What a great spin on persuasion.

    I want a Power Space Commando Ninja Mutant Brain Blaster. It sounds fun. Can I shoot my husband with it or does it only work on kids?

  27. says


    Great route into this story, and it touches on something we all agree with — that children know more about how to live than all of us adults combine. Good work.

  28. Shawn says

    This is a clean article summarizing some of the points made in Influence by Robert Cialdini. Nice read.

  29. Sarah Z. Cordell says

    Great post! I enjoyed reading it, and I learned a few things (both about writing and about what I have to look forward to with our first). Bonus!

  30. says

    Dean, as usual, you are spot on. I love the simplicity of this post- because, at it’s core, selling is all about giving someone something they already want. We tend to over-complicate it, or at least I do.

    Thanks again.


  31. says


    Great post, but you missed the most important technique: Persistence. Remember the scene in the Simpsons, when Bart keeps going, “Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad…” Until Homer screams and give in? I hope you do, because otherwise I’m just making it up.

    I have a 12 year old just like that. Not only will he ask once, he’ll ask a half a dozen times. Then when we say no, he’s ask why not. Then a few days later, he’ll start asking again. And he’ll keep asking, not daily, but on a consistent basis, so that eventually we say yes! Tenacious and successful, my son is going to be a great salesman someday!

    Never give up!


  32. Jim O. says


    ..which is why I had to implement an ‘Ask 3 times = Automatic No’ rule at my home.

    Persistence is definitely the Irresistible Force when used with Ask, Reason, Time and Contract is all ‘bargaining’ situations, and once a good head of steam is built up…

  33. says

    This article is funny, great and true-to-life.

    Indeed, we can acquire things in life if we learn to be like kids, not whiny or anything, but direct to the point. At times we must put away our pride for a while and learn to ask for something, be it for help, or things like that just as long as your reason follows logic.

  34. says

    Great post. Obviously you become more aware of peoples feelings and read their attitude before saying things a lot of the time and this holds us back from what we are really wanting to say. I think this post shows there is no need to be too wary of speaking what you think as long as it is polite and inoffensive.
    I think more aspects of kindness and innocence need to be learnt from children.

  35. says

    .which is why I had to implement an ‘Ask 3 times = Automatic No’ rule at my home.

    Persistence is definitely the Irresistible Force when used with Ask, Reason, Time and Contract is all ‘bargaining’ situations, and once a good head of steam is built up…

  36. Alyson says

    Kids are master salesmen, they negotiate naturally .. I promise if I can have a sweet now I’ll (a) eat my supper (b) go to bed without a fuss (c) tidy my room or whatever they need to use as persuasion. If you say no they don’t accept it and carry on negotiating until they get a yes, a lesson to be learned??

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