You try to negotiate, you talk sweet, you bribe them, you give them consequences, and then…you lose it. Getting kids to cooperate can be tough! If they would just get dressed in the morning like you asked, ate everything that you put on their plate, stopped pestering their sister, cleaned up their room, and skipped off to school happily and came back in a good mood, life would be good. But they don’t.
Here are some things to try when your little one is not feeling so flexible:
1. Laugher. Laughter is a powerful way to ease the frustration and tension that can build so quickly with our children.
A mom I was working with had an eleven-year old son who wouldn’t clean up his room. There were smelly clothes everywhere—socks, underwear, pants, and stained shirts strewn across the floor of Jack’s room. Jack’s mom had pestered him, bribed him, and given him consequences, but he still wasn’t picking up his dirty laundry.
So she tried a strategy that I love–something called Playlistening. One Sunday morning, she said, “Hey Jack, here’s your clothes basket. You try to throw the clothes in and I’ll try to catch them.” Jack got a big smile on his face. He started shooting his clothes into the basket and his mom dove for each piece trying to catch it. Some she missed, some she dunked in the basket herself, but by the end of their game they were both giggling and the floor was clean.
Another way to use Playlistening: On the drive home from school the kids were at it AGAIN. Five-year old Marcus and his brother were bickering. Their mom yelled to them from the front seat to knock it off, but it only got worse. And then Marcus called his mom stupid and that was the last straw for her.
She took a deep breath and instead of yelling at him said, “Hey, that’s not my name! My name is Kombucha Head! But do NOT tell anyone that.” The boys started yelling Kombucha Head from the back seat. “Hey, you guys, I said do not announce that to anyone!!” At this point they were smiling and still yelling Kombucha Head.
When they got into the house, the mom told them she was going to plant a big raspberry on their tummy when she caught them and they took off running. She chased after them, they hid under a blanket, she patted the blanket trying to find them. “Where did those boys go? I need to give them a big raspberry!” She said, as they giggled more.
They both popped up from under the blanket and said that they were going to give her a raspberry. “Nooo,” she screamed and took off running. They chased her around the house, she tripped along the way (on purpose!) and the boys fell on top of her giggling.
A few minutes later, the two brothers were able to go off and play well together for the rest of the afternoon, and the mom was able to make an early dinner without any interruptions or fires to put out.
2. Set Limits! Sometimes your child is so upset and uncooperative that a little laughter doesn’t help. When that happens, you need to set a limit.
One weekend, a friend of mine had a house full of visitors. Her sister and two small children were staying with them for a week. At one point they were all sitting down for dinner and my friend’s four-year-old daughter saw what was on the table and said, “I do not want chicken and potatoes! I will not eat that!!”
She stomped her feet and started to cry. “I don’t want that for dinner!” She yelled. Her mother bent down with her and said, “That’s what we’re having tonight, Sweetie.” Even though she always ate chicken without a fuss, she cried more and refused to eat with everyone. Her mother listened more. She cried for about ten minutes. My friend didn’t tell her daughter to stop crying, or offer her something else. She listened to her daughter’s tears and held the limit gently: “We’re all eating chicken tonight. I know that’s not what you want, we’ll have something different tomorrow night.”
After her daughter cried for a bit, she looked out of the window and noticed it had started to rain. “Mommy, look at the rain on the leaves outside!” Sometimes when children have a good cry and are able to finish, they wipe the tears from their eyes and change the subject entirely. Her daughter had cleared through her tears and was ready to eat. She joined her cousins and their conversation at the table, and ate happily with everyone else.
When a child is too upset to laugh, but they just won’t cooperate, often a limit is necessary. If your child comes home from school and he is especially grumpy—he won’t put his backpack where it belongs, he demands a snack in an angry voice, and starts throwing the ball in the house, a limit is necessary.
Move in close and set the limit without yelling or raising your voice. Prevent him from throwing the ball or let him know he needs to put his backpack away. If he’s upset, a limit will often lead to more upset. And that’s when you need to hold the limit and listen to what follows—sometimes tears, sometimes more anger—but be sure to bring the limit (don’t yell it from across the room), hold the limit, and just listen to his upset.
When your children are not cooperating, consequences and punishment often don’t work. They might do what you want for the moment, but the underlying issue is not resolved, and often children become more resentful and angry when the things they love are taken away.
So the next time your little one won’t cooperate, infuse some giggles into the situation and see what happens. If it’s not time for laughter, it’s time for limits.