Parents often believe that demanding obedience from their child is the only way to get them to do what the parents expect of them, like doing homework, brushing teeth, cleaning up and so on. The problem is, obedience implies that a child is doing something without any choice, simply complying with a command. Demanding obedience thus comes at a high cost of squashing a child’s self-esteem and abilitiy to learn self-discipline. ( Read more on that here)
So, if not obedience, then what? What can a parent do, what should a parent do when they wonder:How do I get my child to do his homework? How do I get my child to take her medicine? How do I get my toddler to pick up her toys? How do I get my child to help around the house?
Well, first we can stop focusing on GETTING and instead focus on inviting and welcoming cooperation to create a relationship with our children in which they WANT to do these things, yes, even take medicine and do homework.
See, unlike obedience, with cooperation a child is choosing to do something, participating in the decision making process and learning how and what such choices can lead to. This way, everyone feels in command of their own body, mind, choices and actions and then things just tend to run much smoother.
So, how can a parent create a relationship with their child that invites cooperation?
While there are many positive parenting tools that foster cooperation these are five of them to get started:
When we give our children choices, we are restoring to them some control over their own world and body. When given choices a child also starts to form a concept of self-discipline and capability. Choices can be limited to help the process and provide safety. For example, for a child climbing on furniture, skip yelling NO and demanding that they get down. Try instead: “I see you feel like climbing, but, the countertop is for preparing meals. Would you like to go to the yard and climb the slide or to the play room and jump on the trampoline?” Another instance is crossing the street. Holding a hand is non negotiable, but which hand or even which finger for a little one, well that could be a choice!
Just like adults have preferences over what they enjoy eating, what music they enjoy listening to, what store they want to shop at, children have preferences. What’s more, as they are growing and learning about themselves these preferences change, sometimes daily, sometimes hourly. Respecting a child’s desire to wear a side-ways pony tail or to have pants on backwards or to play with the same puzzle forty times in a row is really ok. It may not be your taste or your personal choice but it is what your child needs/wants at that moment, if it is not harming or threating anyone then why not try to respect it?
Know what your child is able to do at each age and stage and adjust accordingly. For example, you would like for the toys in the playroom to be cleaned up, but there are hundreds of small Legos everywhere. If it looks overwhelming to you, you can bet that even though a five year old may have happily dumped the Legos out and played for hours, it’s just too much to envision cleaning it all up on their own. Skip the demands and or nagging and instead offer to help clean up, and even better, try to make it fun! Similarly, a teenager cannot do homework if a television is taunting their attention and a toddler cannot be expected to sit quietly, empty handed in a waiting room.
Hold yourself accountable to the NOTs
Obedience often centers on wanting children NOT to do certain things. Not jump on furniture, not eat too much candy, not to poke their younger brother. What part do you play in all these NOTs? Do you leave candy where it can be reached? Do you leave two young children unattended? Sometimes looking at what we as parents need to do to prevent a situation is much more effective than demanding compliance in impossible situations.
Acknowledge & Follow Through
As parents, as hard as it may be when we are pressed for time, stressed and tired, we need to honor and welcome the thoughts that our children are having. At least acknowledging the thought is a good step, for example If your child wants to know why you have decided to do something. “I hear you have questions, I want to answer you. Let’s talk about that at home before story time when I have time to really explain myself.” Later, when you do have time, DO follow through, answer those questions, welcome more questions and you will ultimately build a relationship of trust and true cooperation.
You can find more ideas and examples on compliance versus cooperation here.
Parenting is a daily learning experience and sure there are moments when we absolutely believe we NEED our children to do certain things, but approaching the vast majority of the situations in a positive and cooperative fashion can only lead to stronger and more connected relationships, ones that lead our children to feel empowered, confident and ultimately WANT to do that which we believe they NEED to do! So will you give it a try? Next time you want your child to obey you, will you try one of these alternatives instead?
Are you struggling with cooperation at home? What is your biggest struggle when it comes to inviting cooperation? Tell me in comments – I’m always happy to share more resources and ideas.
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Peace & Be Well,