Three corny ideas for enlisting cooperation from your little ones

frazzled mom cartoon

My week (except for the nursling)

Our family has been minus John for ten days. During this time I have been unable to cobble together two minutes of uninterrupted thought. As an extreme introvert who needs some quiet time every day for optimal functioning – let’s just say that I am currently operating at suboptimal.

To make it all worse, Harry has entered a phase of, ahem, extreme independence. It is challenging to maintain a peaceful demeanor in the face of a three-year-old who insists that the world, or at least our family, operate at his pace. Which is very, very slow. I spend my days trying to shift him out of neutral or sometimes reverse, like when I get him ready to go, spend twenty seconds in the bathroom, and come out to find that he has removed his coat, shoes and socks. Since I couldn’t just leave him home with Daddy while I shuttled Bess around I was left with three choices:

  1. Manhandle him into the car which doesn’t work anyway since he learned to unbuckle his seat, albeit only when the car is in motion (when I have my hands full and it’s pouring rain this skill suddenly and predictably eludes him);
  2. Scream like a crazy Mommy, which is exceedingly effective but not ideal; or
  3. Get creative.

I recently invested four minutes in a video on The Greater Good blog, “Getting Kids to Listen – Without Nagging!” and gleaned this tidbit of wisdom: if you don’t give kids something to push against, they won’t need to push. Indeed: Do you like being told what to do? Should kids be any different? If we use a sing-songy “It’s time to put on our shoes now!” rather than a stern “PUT ON YOUR SHOES!”, it’s still an order.

Since defiance in the face of coercion is human nature, it’s up to me to find a better system. My mission, should I choose to accept it (as if I had a choice): concoct more playful and respectful ways to inspire cooperation rather than creating a resist or obey dynamic. Here are three ideas that are working for us right now:

  1. Fill your tank. Harry hates eating unless it’s chocolate. He doesn’t even bother asking what’s for dinner, he just goes straight to “I don’t like that”. Solution: Instead of creating artificial incentives (“If you’re not hungry enough to eat dinner then I guess you’re not hungry enough for dessert” is really a dressed-up bribe) I tell him that he’s a car and he has to fill his tank with good fuel or his engine won’t work very well.
  2. Head to the roundhouse. Transitions are a major sticking point for us right now. Solution: Instead of nagging, or giving five-, three-, and one-minute warnings which works for some kids but not Harry, when it’s time for us all to go out, we pretend to be train coaches and head to our roundhouse (the car) to prepare for our next job (grocery shopping, ballet class, whatever).
  3. Take a knee. Simply telling Harry what to expect solves a lot of problems, but he is usually too absorbed in whatever he is doing to listen. Solution: Instead of getting all lecture-y, we pretend that I am the coach and he is a hockey player, and I ask him to “take a knee” like the players do when their coach needs their attention during practice.

Of course, there’s always the old standby: ask and listen. Why don’t you want to go? Why don’t you want to eat that? Sometimes it’s the answer you expect, but sometimes you learn something new and a solution will reveal itself. You’re in the middle of the World Grand Prix? You can bring your cars to the barn! You have a tummy ache? Then you don’t have to eat! It may not be easy, but usually there is a way to solve problems where everyone wins – or at least nobody loses.