Getting a young child to listen and co-operate can be an ongoing challenge for many parents. It is important, however, not to confuse co-operation with compliance.
Co-operation can be defined as ‘working or acting together for a common purpose or benefit.’ Keeping this in mind, there are many ways you can help your child learn to co-operate.
Giving your child choices throughout the day is an easy way to encourage co-operation and build self-confidence at the same time.
Start by offering a few small choices, like "Do you want to wear the red shirt or the blue one?" "Would you like a banana or grapes with your lunch?" "Do you want to brush your teeth before or after you put on your pajamas?"
Be aware of your wording when offering choices.
"Are you going to pick up your toys or do I have to take them away from you?" is a threat, not a choice. Instead you might say, "It’s time to pick up your toys. Do you want to put away your trucks or the puzzle first?"
Remember that not everything can or should come down to a child’s choice. Too many choices can be overwhelming and frustrating for a young child. As well, if your child’s health or safety is in question, there is no choice.
When directing your child, you are more likely to get co-operation from suggestions than from orders.
"Get to bed!" is sure to be met with some resistance. If you simply state what needs to happen next, it leaves less room for argument. "I will get the story book while you hop into bed and then we will read it together."
Ask for the behaviour you want rather than focusing on the negative. Instead of saying "Don’t run in the house," describe the behaviour you need to see. "We use our walking feet in the house. Later we can go outside to run."
Notice when your child is being co-operative and acknowledge his efforts. Tell him specifically how his actions have made an important contribution.
"I see that you put your boots on the mat. That really helps to keep our floor clean!" "Thank you for putting your books back on the shelf. You will know just where to find them when you want to look at them again." "I’m glad that you helped me fold the laundry. Now that our work is done we have time to go outside and play."
It is easier to encourage co-operation when you offer your child choices and focus on the behaviour you want to see. However, it is equally important to set and adhere to limits and rules.
Not everything is up for negotiation, and your child needs to understand this. She may have some choices in her bedtime routine, but she cannot choose what time she goes to bed. She can make clothing choices, but they need to be appropriate to the weather. Set limits and then give your child some freedom within those boundaries.
Think of co-operation not as a struggle to get your child to do what you ask, but as working together toward a common goal.
This is helpful in the short-term as you accomplish the tasks that need to be done each day, but also has benefits in the long-term as the habits formed in early childhood will continue to develop as your child grows.
Shawna Munro works at the Elspeth Reid Family Resource Centre, a facility of Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba that offers parenting information and support.
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