In a perfect world, our homes would be filled with peace and harmony. When we asked our little darlings to clean up, they’d hop right up with a smile on their face, say “OK” and get right to the task. Once they’ve put everything back in its proper place, they’d responsibly get ready for bed, kiss you goodnight, and happily go to sleep.
In the real world, we might be ignored until smoke erupts from our ears, and we hear ourselves yell, “If I have to tell you one more time!!!”
Ugh. Enter tears and power struggles.
In our desperation to gain cooperation, we often resort to common but ultimately unhelpful tricks such as bribes, threats, nagging, and yelling. These rarely work, and this is why the more we yell and nag, the more it seems we have to yell and nag. But the truth is, nobody likes to be bossed around! In fact, when kids feel bossed around, they shut down.
Demanding evokes a natural fight or flight response. The old “because I said so” trick has lost its power over the generations. Family members want to feel valued and respected, and that’s a good thing! We are all advocating for ourselves more, even our kiddos!
While nothing is going to gain you 100% cooperation (we don’t live in that perfect world, after all), there are some tools you can use to lower frustration and increase the likelihood that your kids will listen and cooperate.
Before we move on to the tips, let’s do an expectation check. Make sure that the things you are expecting cooperation in are within your child’s capabilities for their age and development. Sometimes we expect more than what they are able to give. I’ve seen some toddler chore charts on Pinterest that made my hair curl. Whose two-year-old is really sweeping, mopping, putting away their toys, washing their dish, and feeding the pets? I’m sure there’s one or two, but don’t sweat it if your toddler is a little less inclined to complete an exhaustive chore list just because it’s colorful.
Also, it sounds obvious when I type it out loud, but not all kids are on the same level! My four-year-old son was different from other people’s four-year-old sons, yet when I held tightly to expectations based on comparisons, I’d get frustrated every time.
Three Tools to Increase Cooperation
Connection is Key
Our relationship with our kids is the secret to better cooperation. It’s what gives them the desire to please us, and this is why threats and nagging actually decrease cooperation in the long run and lead to power struggles. When our children feel attached to us, they want to cooperate out of the genuine love and respect they feel. This doesn’t mean that because we have a close relationship, they won’t have their own wants, desires, and agendas. Of course, there are no magic bullets, but without connection, the desire to cooperate dwindles.
Here are 5 ways to connect with your child daily:
- Let go of distractions and give your child 100% of your attention for ten minutes each day. So often we are only giving our kids bits of us. With so much going on, it's hard not to be distracted when they talk to us or want to play, but being fully present for just a few minutes a day can make a big difference.
- Engage in child-led play. Join your child in their fantasy world and let them lead. When they get to lead, they gain a sense of purpose and positive self-worth. It allows them some direct control over their environment.
- Speak your child’s love language. We all give and receive love in special ways. Learn what makes your child feel most loved and valued, and give that daily.
- Make loving rituals part of your day. Whether it’s a sweet morning ritual of a hug and phrase or five minutes spent meditating together in your Calming Corner, loving rituals are grounding and help your child feel like a significant part of the family unit.
- Be a parent they can talk to. Rather than being quick to jump to advice or trying to fix the problem, practice being an active and empathetic listener. Often when kids open up, they’re not asking for advice, they just want to be heard and seen.
Positive Follow Through
For very young children, I recommend you gently guide them to the toys and point to the mess and then to the bins. This simple directive is easy for young tots to understand. Stay close and ensure the task is complete, and then thank them! Say phrases like, “I appreciate you putting your toys away." or "That was so helpful. Thank you!”
For preschoolers and young children, try adding a bit of fun to the routine by playing music, making up a song, or asking your child to beat the timer. The more play you can add to your day, the more cooperative your child will become because play is a great way to help them feel connected.
When it comes to older children, try a drop-off bin. Tell them when things get left out, it goes into the bin. This isn’t a punishment, and there’s no ransom to be paid for getting it back. Rather, it’s about building positive habits. Ask that, at the end of the day, they check the bin for their belongings and put everything away before bed. This keeps your home tidier (all misplaced objects are in the bin) but still gives your kids the responsibility of putting away their things. I found it to be a win-win.
Try These Encouraging Phrases
Sometimes a simple rephrasing is all that’s needed to elicit cooperation. Shifting from demanding to inviting cooperation means your child will feel respected, connected, and much more cooperative. Here are a few options to try:
- Would you like to be my helper?
- Do you have an idea on how to do this differently?
- Let’s try teamwork!
- In five minutes, it’s time to __. (Sometimes announcing the transition makes it smoother.)
- I could really use your help with this.
- I would appreciate it if you would __ before bedtime.
- I’d love your input!
- Could you help me out by doing __? You’re really good at it!
Getting our children’s cooperation is done through relationship. Tricks and bribes only go so far, and kids wise up to them eventually and will rebel as control evokes that fight or flight response. But true cooperation comes from a deep love and respect, and that is only earned through offering deep love and respect to your child.