Whenever I work with parents one of the most common problems we tackle is getting kids to cooperate – without reminding, bribing or punishing! Kids naturally want to listen but their immature nervous system makes it difficult to comply with our wishes all the time.
Since it’s summer, odds are you’re going to be spending more time with your kids AND having to ask for their cooperation more often. Wouldn’t it be nice to have fun while getting them to do what you want them to do?
I’ve put together some ideas for getting your kids to listen to you without having to nag, repeat yourself or get loud!
Instead of, “no, but…,” try, “yes, and…,” on for size. People tend to really hear positives and shut down to negatives. If we want our message to be crystal clear we need to couch it in positive language.
The next time your child asks, “Can we go to the park?” you might say, “Yes, and we’ll go right after you finish putting your dishes in the sink!” Or, “Sure! We’re planning to go tomorrow.”
This helps kids learn how to wait for the things they’re looking forward to also. “Yes, and…,” doesn’t mean that you are always agreeing to do what the child wants right away.
This doesn’t mean never saying, “No.” But whenever possible try giving your child a ‘yes’ even if there’s some waiting that they’ll have to do.
Make It a Game
Kids love it when the adults around them will engage in pretend play – and we can use this to ease the disappointment of having to follow rules that they may not want to follow.
For instance, when you need your child to leave the park you might pretend you’re getting picked up by the school bus or hopping on an airplane.
This can really work when you feel a power struggle coming on! I’ve found that racing also works and it gets out that built up tension from the conflict. Kids need healthy ways to get rid of the stress that builds up during the day – big physical movements help them shake off the stress!
Forget About It
Instead of repeating yourself, “forget” what you said in the first place! This kind of playful forgetfulness gives your child the chance to remember on their own and have some fun with you.
Parent: We’re leaving now. You’ll need to have shoes on!
Child: Okay! (then does something else totally unrelated to what you’ve asked)
Parent: Gosh, I’m ready to go...wait, did I ask you to do something? I can’t remember!
Child: Put on my shoes!! Haha, you forgot! (puts shoes on)
Use this strategy every now and then. Kids may grow weary of the forgetful act if used too often but they love it when they get to remind us. No power struggle, all smiles.
Feel like your child is constantly testing limits and doing the same behavior you asked them not to do over and over again? The scenario might look something like this:
Child: Blissfully throwing couch cushions into the yard. (Why? Your guess is as good as mine.)
Parent: Please keep the pillows inside. Throwing them out the door will make them dirty. I’d like them to stay clean.
Child: Continues to throw couch cushions outside.
Parent: (While doing something else) I said, do not throw those pillows outside! They’ll get dirty!
Child: Pauses - but then continues to toss pillows through the open door.
Parent: That’s it! No more pillows! (Locks door and takes pillows) And you’re going to time out. I asked you nicely not to throw the pillows outside!
In this situation the parent waited too long to enforce the limit of not throwing pillows outside. This escalated further than it needed to, with a frustrated parent starting to lose it and a bewildered toddler wondering what was really happening.
The best requests are made at a child’s eye level, calmly. Explain, as concisely as possible, what you want and why. If a child continues to engage in the behavior that you don’t want state again what you want and then move in close. Your proximity – especially with toddlers – helps them to remember what the request was.
If this isn’t enough then you’ll need to follow through. Close and lock the door – you might say, “I won’t let you throw the pillows anymore.” Try to remain calm and matter-of-fact.
By following through you are showing your child that this limit is important to you. Your child will continue to test boundaries because it’s part of development. Meeting them calmly, with confidence, each time will help them learn where the consistent boundaries are.
Make a Request, Not a Demand
No one likes to be bossed around! A demand says – do this now. A request says – I want this to be done. A request invites your child to participate.
Instead of, “Go clean your room, “you might say, “It’s time to clean your room.”
The distinction is small but the difference is huge. Yes, sometimes you’ll need your child to do something right away, without a lot of fuss – but try to make these times more limited. Children are more apt to cooperate when they feel like their preferences are taken into consideration.
In other words, if you want your child to ask for things nicely, you have to ask for things nicely!
Try a few of these on for size this summer and see how having fun can help your child cooperate more often.