We’ve all been there; you make what seems like a simple request only to have your child adamantly refuse to do whatever it is that you’re asking. This seems to happen more often when you’re running late or out in public. For example, what began as you asking your child to put on shoes is now a tense struggle between you and your child. How can you get kids to cooperate?
Tips to Get Kids to Cooperate
1. Offer choices
Most people dislike being told what they have to do. Children feel this way too. I learned early in my teaching career that children are much more cooperative when they are given choices. Quickly, I became good at giving my students options. That way they were able to make choices that made them happy while also complying with directions. When I became a parent it was easy to use the same strategy with my children.
It is important to note that the outcome of whatever choice you offer should be something you’re happy to have happen. For example, if I want my child to put on his shoes I ask, “Would you like to put on your black shoes or your red shoes?” I want him to put on his shoes. It doesn’t matter to me what color shoes he chooses. With this approach, my child feels respected and trusted in his ability to make decisions. I get a cooperative child putting on his shoes. We’re both happy.
Funny story: My husband Nick and I were trying to get our 18 month old to sit in her stroller. She started crying and insisted she was walking. I picked her up and calmed her down a little. Then I told her that I was going to put her in her stroller and asked her if she would like to buckle herself or if she would rather have me buckle her in. She chose to buckle herself and did so happily. Nick was amazed that I was able to get her into the stroller so quickly. He asked how I did it and I told him that I gave her two choices and was happy with the outcome of either one. Shortly thereafter he mentioned that I did that to him all the time! I had become so good at it I was unintentionally doing it with the adults in my life too! (Well, maybe it was intentional a few times…) I get a cooperative husband doing x, y, z. We’re both happy. Genius, right? 😉
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2. Give a head’s up
Just as we would prefer a few minutes to finish up what we’re doing before moving on to something else, kids also need a little time to switch gears. Giving them a 5 or 10 minute notification before asking them to do something else can make a world of difference in their level of cooperation. A notification gives them time to complete what they are working on and process that a change is coming. It also shows that we respect them and their desires.
When giving a notification, I often say something like, “In five minutes you need to clean up the blocks because it will be time for lunch.” That gives my child the knowledge that she has five more minutes to play and when I ask her to clean up she knows that she will be having lunch next. I like to explain the reason behind why I am asking the kids to stop what they’re doing. When kids understand the ‘why’ behind what we’re asking them to do, they are often more willing to do it. Depending on the child, I sometimes throw in a one minute warning too. Some children are more successful in transitioning to something else when an additional reminder is given toward the end of the time frame.
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3. Set expectations
We all like to know what to expect on any given day. Letting kids know what is going to happen during the day gives them a framework. They know what to expect and can ask questions as well as share their thoughts. Then they are able to have a sense of ownership over their day. A general overview is all that most kids need. There may even be room to fit in their suggestions within the overall framework of the day.
I find that this works well for smaller chunks of time too. For example, when we’re going to a friend’s house I will give the kids a loose framework such as: “We will play for two hours, have lunch and share the cookies that we baked. Then it will be time to go home. I will give you a 5 minute warning and I expect you to be ready to leave when I say that time is up.” I then ask the kids if they have any questions, which they usually do. Sometimes they bring up pertinent things that I hadn’t considered. By the time we’re at the friend’s house (or any other activity), they know what to expect and they know my expectations of them. Knowing expectations up front makes it easier for all involved.
The three methods mentioned above help children feel that they have some influence over their day. It also shows them that we respect them. When children feel this way they are much more likely to be cooperative.
What is your favorite way to get kids to cooperate with you?