Getting our kids to cooperate with us can become a murky affair, I know. Often, even using all the good parenting techniques you know can lead to the worst power struggles! What do you do when every instruction, reasoning, threat, and plea results in a splitting headache for you and a sulking, angry child?
In this article, we will look at how to get your child to cooperate with you by making a few small but critical changes in your approach.
Why do children become so defensive and uncooperative?
Laura Markham Ph.D., author of ‘peaceful parent,’ suggests that forcing, threatening, and shouting at your child creates more resistance because force will always create ‘pushback’ in children and leads to power struggles.
You ask yourself, “why can’t my child understand it’s for his own good?”
Dr. Markham puts it down to children experiencing ‘big feelings and unmet needs.”
If children’s need for healthy power and some control over their lives are not me, it will play out in rebellious behavior. They will act out their resistance against you when you ask them to do something. They’ll talk back, kick the dog or push a sibling out of the way to vent their frustrations.
Children may have a few ‘big feelings’ that cause them to feel anxious. And, just like adults, kids can keep their feelings suppressed until something triggers them. Telling them to do something simple like picking their clothes off the floor can end in a power struggle.
When kids are pressing down negative emotions, the positive ones also become suppressed. This causes them to lose the connection that makes them want to cooperate with their parents.
Additionally, demanding cooperation from your kids by instructing, ordering, or correcting brings out a natural fight-or-flight response. This is when talking back, and tantrums rear their ugly heads. At this point, parents can choose to accept or reject the underlying invitation to a power struggle.
Positive parenting techniques to prevent pushbacks and tantrums
Unfortunately, phrases like “because I said so,” and demands may increase feelings of disconnectedness and hostility in your child. Case studies have shown that parents get more cooperation by inviting than demanding.
You can prevent rebellion and power struggles by inviting cooperation rather than demanding it from your child. In this way, you meet two of your child’s primary needs, i.e.
She’s being addressed respectfully and feels emotionally connected to the family unit,
You reaffirm her worth and capability and make her feel she’s making a difference.
Empathize with your child and also see situations from her perspective. It will reassure her that you’re on her side, making her want to cooperate.
It pays to observe when your child hasn’t completed a task they’re responsible for. Instead of demanding that they do it, you can ask, “I’ve noticed you haven’t cleaned the hamster’s cage. What’s your plan for cleaning the cage?” You’re not accusing or demanding but simply observing an unfinished task that needs to be done.
Get your child to laugh with you. Watch an animated movie, recall funny incidents, dance, or play games together. Laugher releases bonding hormones and helps your child to reconnect with you.
Show love in every situation, even when she has a meltdown. By showing empathy, love, and support during her tearful and vulnerable moments, your child will be more relaxed and cooperative.
Positive Discipline to get your child to cooperate
Experience is the best teacher.
Learning is an experiential process. If your child rejects your advice and pleas to wear a jacket to school on a cold day because she feels it's 'uncool,' allow her to feel the freeze. Don't worry about her catching her death - relax! She’s learning from her mistakes to make better choices tomorrow and thereafter.
Taking responsibility and ‘owning’ the consequences of their choices
It’s liberating for parents and a growth opportunity for your child when you allow them to make their own choices from an early age. It’s not about kids making perfect choices at the outset.
They must be allowed to make mistakes through poor choices. They will also learn to own the consequences of their poor choices and make better, wiser ones as they grow older.
Using ‘I’ instead of ‘You.”
Instead of barking out orders during the morning rush that often go unheard anyway, explain what you will be doing and the consequences for how your child chooses to use the limited time.
“I’ve set the timer for fifteen minutes. If it rings we’ll leave. I hope you’ll eat enough to stay full until lunchtime.”
The final choice of how he uses the fifteen minutes lies with your child, regardless of whether he gets to school on an empty stomach.
Use the power of play to reinforce responsibility.
Give your child five brightly colored stars at the start of each week. Each time he makes an excuse instead of taking responsibility for his choices, he forfeits a star. The objective of the game is not to lose all his stars by the end of the week.
He can also earn a star back by undoing a poor choice, i.e., he apologizes for causing hurt or inconvenience to someone. If he only has one star at the end of the week, it deserves a reward like a trip to an ice cream parlor, etc.
Positive parenting is not a one-size-fits-all solution as children are complex beings. Praise your child for his efforts and tell him, “I think it’s wonderful that you cleaned up the mess you made on the kitchen table. You can feel proud of yourself for apologizing and taking responsibility for your actions.”
Getting your child to cooperate with you is not that hard. The most important ingredients for success are consistency, patience, and love.
See you soon.