Getting Your Child to Cooperate When You Have an Agenda

Have you ever been out shopping with your child and he decides that it’s just not happening? Maybe he drops to the floor, refuses to let go of that candy bar, or has an all out meltdown right in the middle of everything. Of course it’s when everyone’s out and you’re trying to get a list of things accomplished. How are you supposed to gain your child’s cooperation when you have something to get done, but your child has a different idea?

Most parents are surprised when I tell them that discipline actually derives from the Latin root disciplina and means “teaching; learning”. So when you think about helping your child through difficult behavior, it’s important to think, not simply of stopping unwanted behavior, but more importantly, teaching her a life skill and how to behave in a given situation. Unfortunately, discipline is not one size fits all. Instead, it requires that you carry a toolbox full of strategies to help your child make better choices. Different situations call for different approaches, so let’s look at just a few ideas to add to that toolbox . . .

Give Choices

Just like an adult, your child has a strong need for autonomy. If your child feels powerless in a situation, you will often see more resistance and unwanted behavior. Try giving as many choices within your activity as possible. “Do you want to hold Dad’s hand or ride in the cart?” “Would you like to stand up on your own or do you want Mom to help you?” Follow this up by saying, “You choose”. This puts the power back in his hands even though you have given pre-defined choices. Not only are you avoiding potential behaviors, you are teaching the power of making good choices. But what if he refuses the choices??? Simply tell him in a calm voice that you will choose for him and calmly and firmly help him do what it is that needs to be done. Allow him to be upset as you do this, even telling him a word for what he might be feeling. Then do what you need to do to help soothe and calm him. It is very frustrating for your child when he is required to do something against his will and he needs your help to get through it.

Get Your Child Involved

When your child contributes usefully to what is happening, she is less likely to feel the need to get attention by acting out. Next time you go shopping, try creating a simple list of 3-5 items for her to look for while you go shopping. She can even help you find pictures of the items to put on the list so she can see what she’s looking for. You can also allow her to carry items to the car, place things on the conveyer belt, etc. Even the smallest task can feel like an important job to your little one. In doing so, you are giving her a sense of competence and confidence, that she can contribute something valuable to the family.

Tell Your Child What To Do

How often does your child hear “Don’t touch that!” or “Stop running!”? We all do it! But, when you tell your child what not to do, it brings more attention to the unwanted behavior instead of what you actually want him to do. Also, your child has to translate your negative statement into a positive action. Why not simplify it and give him a clear statement of what is expected? If he is running, try “Please walk”, if he is screaming, try “Quiet voice” (using a quiet voice yourself really helps with this one). By doing so, you will guide him toward better behavior by explicitly telling him what is expected.  I have found, too, that telling your child this before you even get out of the car is really helpful. I recommend using simple pictures or drawings to show your child what to do so that he knows what is expected.

Now of course, these three strategies alone are not going to fix all of your child’s behaviors. What you will find, though, is that you are actively teaching some very important skills that will help lessen the need for these outbursts. And remember, as you use these strategies, remain calm and model this to your child. Her brain is wired to copy you so when she sees you calm yourself, she will begin to calm herself, too.

Photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk

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