Aha! Parenting Blog

Practical solutions for real parenting problems

12 Terrific Ways to Help Kids WANT to Cooperate

"Dr. Laura....I do try to find things to appreciate about my children.  But there are some behaviors that are simply not acceptable.  How can I find something positive to say when my daughter raises her voice to me, or makes loud noises on purpose when I'm feeding the baby, or won't get in the tub?  She looks right at me and refuses to follow my requests." -- Carmen

 “If you don’t know what to do and are about to throw your hands up in the air, try a hug. Worst case scenario, you create a connection instead of causing a rift.  Best case scenario, that is what your child really needed and he starts cooperating after the hug because his needs have been met.” -- phdinparenting.com

Last week we talked about catching your child doing something right, all day long.  But it's true that there will be times when it's hard to find something to appreciate.  And, yes, some behaviors do need to be limited. 

But criticizing another person never helps them change.  When you feel criticized, how do you respond? If you can't wait to give up what you wanted and do things the other person's way, you're in the minority.

Sure, children need limits to know what's acceptable.  But limits only work when kids WANT to behave.  Criticizing at the same time actually makes kids fight your limits.  So the next time you start to yell at your child to straighten up and fly right, try something more effective:

1. Set the limit calmly, kindly, and with empathy. 

"Ouch! I don't yell at you, please don't yell at me.  You must be really upset to use that tone of voice.  What's the matter, Sweetie?"

2. If your child cries or rages at your limit,  empathize with her feelings.

"You're so mad that I said 'No candy before dinner.'  You wish you could have candy....Now you're crying...that's ok, everybody needs to cry sometimes.  I'm right here, Sweetie."

Sometimes kids (like all humans) just need to cry or rage and be heard.  That helps them let go of all those big feelings they've been storing up, waiting for a safe opportunity to express.  Once children feel heard, they feel much more cooperative.

3. Say what you see and invite cooperation.

"I hear very loud noises.  I hear you, I see you.  And I love you! Want to come join us on the couch?"

4. Respond to the need or feeling that's driving the behavior.

"You have been wanting me all to yourself, haven't you?  Sometimes you wish the baby wasn't even here, I bet.  It's hard to wait when you want me.  You and I need some special time.  How about as soon as the baby goes down for her nap?  What should we do together, just you and me?

5. Make it a game.

"Why don't we take your action figures into the bath?  Wouldn't they like a water battle?  Here, I'll help.  Let's have them fight all the way up the stairs!"

6. Divert the energy with physical connection.

"What do you mean you don't want a bath?  Come here, you Never-take-a-bath-dirtiest-boy-in-the-world! I'll show you who's boss around here!  Where do you think you're going?   I'm the bath enforcer and I always get my man! Hey, you got away! You're too fast for me!"

Bumble, trip and fall.  Rough-house until you collapse in each other's arms.  Now that the mood has changed to one of connection, assume cooperation and offer a choice:  "Do you want to pick out a special plastic container or pitcher out of the kitchen, or just use your boats in the tub?"

7. Give her what she wants with a wish.

"You wish you didn't have to take your bath and get ready for bed, I know.  I bet when you're grown up you'll NEVER go to bed!  You'll stay up all night, every night!  And you'll never take a bath, either, will you?"

8. Find something to appreciate instead.

To a three year old who's acting out while you tend to the baby: "You're the best at cheering up the baby.  Will you come see if you can make him smile?"

9. When you can't find something in the moment to appreciate, find something in the past.

This reassures the child that the present situation is temporary and even if he feels stuck right now, he has past successes he can draw on.

"You and your brother have been having a hard time today.  But remember last Saturday, how you built train tracks all day with him? You had such a good time together."

10. Look for win-win solutions.

"I hear that you don't want to go with me to the store now,  AND we need that food for dinner AND I can't leave you here by yourself.  How can we both get what we need? Let's come up with some ideas that will make both of us happy!"

11. Put your child in charge. 

Nobody likes being told what to do.  Work with your child to create a schedule, in pictures, of your morning or evening routine.  Point to the pictures and ask questions.  "What happens next?"  or "Looks like I'm supposed to be making your breakfast right now.  What are you supposed to be doing?"  or "What else do you need to do before we leave the house?"

12. When all else fails, try a hug. 

No, you're not rewarding your child for bad behavior. Children act out when they feel disconnected; you're reconnecting so she has a reason to behave.  You're giving her the safety to move through her turmoil faster.  And you're helping her relax into her best self.  Love never fails.

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