One very challenging task in the early years of parenting is finding ways to encourage cooperation and listening. Toddlers and pre-schoolers are notorious for saying “NO!” “I can’t” and “I don’t want to!” especially in moments when we would like to hear “yes mama!” and “OK”
In the name of getting things done, it is so tempting to engage in demanding and nagging: “Come on…” And even pleading “Will you please, just put your second shoe on sweet darling!” Of course there is the bribing and prize routes that often just leads to time outs and consequences….but toddlers and preschoolers don’t really mean to be making trouble.
Young children are curious by nature and even defiant by design! But this is a good thing, as it helps them grow into resilient, capable beings!
Growing up can be filled with frustrations
There is much frustration for both parents and children in this phase of growth, especially if you feel compelled to engage in searching for compliance from your toddler, or “do as I say” thinking. The great news is that there are many positive ways to help our children want to listen to us and choose to cooperate with our requests without having to resort to demands.
Shifting your perspective
One such positive way to encourage cooperation is to shift our perspective and put ourselves in our child’s shoes.
Have you tried seeing things as your child sees them? Have you ever made requests from your child’s point of view?
It’s not about manipulating, bribing, or promising the world over, but simply shifting your perspective, even if slightly, to frame your request with your child’s abilirresistableities in mind. Because children really do love to feel capable and cooperative, and it takes just a bit of encouragement and patience on our side to shift from defiance and compliance to communication and cooperation.
One sure way of encouraging more cooperation from toddlers and preschoolers is to make the request irresistible.
One morning my four year old wanted to play a game with me, but I was in the middle of baking. I could have said “ Can’t play the game. Go play on your own for now. I have to bake a cheesecake.” But I know my son would have been disappointed. What’s more, he would have likely found other ways to get my attention, perhaps by bothering one of his siblings…. The solution was to appeal to his point of view. “Hey, you wanted to play a game right…Want to play smashing cookies? You can be today’s official cookie stamper!! Right here on this stool and you get to use MY kitchen tools.”
This was irresistible to my four year old, and it gave me a way to bake and have some time together.
Yes, there are times where having quick cooperation and respectful compliance is necessary. It’s alright to have “non negotiable” requests based on your family values and needs. Some common non negotiable requests are holding hands in the parking lot, crossing a street and taking medicine.
And here is the thing about these “non negotiable” situations. If you are after more cooperation and listening from your child, and tired of demanding, I want to invite you to see things from your child’s point of view, and find ways to work with the child so even these situations are more pleasant for all of you.
These questions may help you encourage more cooperation and make your request irresistible:
- Is there a way to help my child feel more at ease in this situation?
- Can I ask my child to make a small choice?
- What if anything does my child get to control about this situation?
- How can I phrase my request to make it irresistible?
Shifting perspectives in phrasing our requests really can work to encourage more cooperation in early childhood. If not, that’s when setting and holding limits, being kind but being firm can come into play. See more on setting limits that stick here.
When we show our children that cooperating with us is somehow relevant to them, automatically they will be much more receptive to listening to what we have to say:
“When I finish putting away this laundry we can read the book. Are you so excited to find out what is happening in the story? Me too. Hey, want to put these towels in the bath closet so things go faster and we find out?”
Worried that this leads to a “what’s in it for me” mentality? Then I would like to invite you to consider this, by shifting our perspective, we are modeling an incredible skill to our children: The ability to empathize and understand what’s important to another person even though their own wants are also present. It also helps them learn that there is more than one way to get everyone’s needs met.
Encouraging your toddler or preschooler to cooperate and listen to your requests often just starts with you being willing to see things from your child’s perspective. So, how will you make your next request for cooperation irresistible?
Peace & Be Well,
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