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4 Fun Yet Powerful Ways to Get Toddlers and Preschoolers to Cooperate

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I’m pretty laid back when it comes to letting my kids be free range. But, there are certain times when I just can’t let them play with something… and sometimes I absolutely need to get something out of their hands or I have to get them to do something or we need to leave somewhere. Teeth brushing, getting dressed, leaving the playground, etc. You know the deal… can be a huge struggle. But there are few little tools that I’ve found hugely useful over the years. No bribery. No punishments or rewards. No sticker charts… Just fun!

1. Won’t Give Up Something They Can’t Have? Let them put it away themselves and speak to them so they can listen. Today, my nearly 2 year old had some of that kids safe nailpolish, but it was really bad timing for her to want to play with it because we were about to leave the house. So, I said, “Ok, Goldie, it’s time to go now, we need to put the nail polish away. Let’s put the lid on (I helped her a little).” Then, I picked her up and let HER put the nail polish away where it belongs on the shelf. I use explicit instructions and speak to them in a language that they can recognize, but in one that requires them to show off their understanding of words. For example I know that she would be excited to prove that she understands: “Let’s put the metal grater away in the gray container on the kitchen counter.” Notice how I say “Let’s” instead of saying it as a command. I could say, “Goldie, give me the grater now!”, but she would probably hold on to the grater even harder! Try not to overreact if they’re holding something that they shouldn’t have, but that isn’t too dangerous. A grater is sharp, but in reality, probably wouldn’t even do more than a scratch.

2. Make a personal connection and be silly. Often times kids will start grabbing things they shouldn’t when they are searching for some meaningful connection with someone. I was at playgroup the other day and a lovely little two and half year old girl stole a toy from a 12 month old boy. The boy wasn’t all too upset, but he wanted his toy back. So, I went over to the girl and played a quick 15 second game of going after her saying, “I’m gonna get it, I’m gonna get it!” We both laughed and giggled and then I said, “Ok, I do need the toy back to give to the little boy.” She happily surrendered the toy, feeling fulfilled by our little moment of connection.

The same can go for things like teeth brushing and putting on clothes. Just be silly with them and connect. For teeth brushing, you can say, “Should I brush your ear (pretend to brush their ear)? Should I brush your nose? They will love it and *usually* end up cooperating without a struggle. In fact, when I pretend to brush the ear, my 2 year old opens her mouth to laugh. That’s when I go in with the toothbrush to get those pearly whites! For clothes, you can ask them if their socks go on their hands, or if their pants go on their head. Or, you can pretend to ‘catch‘ their feet to put their pants on.

3. Make it a game, race or challenge. The other day, I knew that both of my kids (4 and nearly 2) had to use the toilet before we left the house. The older one was dancing around doing the pee-pee dance. But, when I asked her if she had to go, of course, she said “No.” The little one did the ‘ol arched -back-noodle-arms when I tried to pick her up to take her too. Ugh, how annoying! But then, I changed my tone and said, “Let’s see who gets to the turtle potty first! Ready? Go!” We have two potties next to each other, one has a turtle sticker on it, just for these occasions. They both raced to the potties, laughing and giggling the whole time. They both peedin the potty. We left the house. No fuss. End of story. Offer them a choice. Do you want to use the blue potty or the turtle potty?

Trying to leave the playground with little success even after a few warnings? Let’s see who can race to the car the fastest!

4. Power reversal games. Kids get tired of constantly being told what to do by adults. Power reversal games give your child ‘power‘ over you and make them feel, for once, that they can boss you around. By playing these games during down time (in other words, not in the heat of the moment, when you’re trying to get them to do something), you’ll most likely find that when you do ask for cooperation, your child is more willing to give it. A great example would be a pillow fight, in which your let your child knock you down and you dramatically fall. On days when I feel like all I’ve been doing is boss my kids around, I’ll play some power reversal game just to even out the odds. Here is a full list of power reversal games you can play with your child, they are excellent, check them out!

It’s sometimes hard to remember these little tricks up your sleeve, because we’ve spent our whole lives doing things otherwise. But, if you keep doing them, they will become more second nature to you when the time comes for you to need them. People often worry that if you always play games with a child to get them to do something, that they will ALWAYS want to play and will never ‘learn‘. I’ve found this to be so far from the truth! The more I play and act silly with my kids, they more they are willing to cooperate when I need to be ‘serious‘. Kids learn best when they are having fun. On the occasions that the games don’t work and I do have to put my foot down, then they usually will cry. That crying is actually something that I embrace because it usually means that some emotion needed to work it’s way out in the first place. I know that their crying is just a normal release of built up frustration and I honor their emotions.

So… have fun! Be merry! Play away!

4 Responses »

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