There is nothing more annoying than when you feel like your child is working against you. Whether it is dragging their feet getting out the door, refusing to do their chores, or interrupting you constantly as you try to get something done. When our kids are being difficult it is easy to fall into being snappy or lashing out, which normally leads to power struggles and meltdowns. In these moments our best tool for moving forward in a positive way is seeking cooperation from our kids rather than compliance. Cooperation is the process of working together to the same end. While compliance may feel easier, cooperation can defuse charged situations and build the relationship at the same time. Here are four strategies for winning cooperation:
1. Involve Them Usefully
Often kids go to annoying behaviors because they are seeking attention, even negative attention. They can keep you busy with them through acting helpless, interrupting, whining, or simply being clingy. Instead of feeding the negative attention loop, give them a useful task. Teach them to fold socks, give them their own grocery list in the store, have them water the plants or pull the weeds. Involving kids usefully gives them the attention they are seeking while teaching them that they are able to make a positive contribution.
2. Make a Plan Together
Expectations that go unspoken normally go unmet. Working together ahead of time to make a plan can go a long way towards a positive outcome. If going to the park decide together how you will plan to leave. A five minute warning? A game of tag before you head out? If going to a restaurant discuss ahead of time how your child will pass the time if they get bored while waiting. If you are having guests over make a plan for appropriate behavior and where they can go if they need to calm down. Rather than just telling children what they should do, taking the time to plan together teaches them the lifeskill of forethought and responsibility.
3. Get On Their Level
Children are smaller than adults, and they are used to being talked down to - both physically and verbally. When they are being annoying or irritating try pausing and getting down to their level. Kneel down, look them in the eye, take their hand, or give them a hug. Connection can help your child feel heard and open them up to being able to listen to what you need to say. Getting on their level demonstrates respect and care, which can go a long way.
4. Use Humor
While being funny is often the last thing we want to do when we are annoyed, it can disarm a charged situation and redirect your child’s attention. When they are whining you can pretend not to understand or to mishear their words, if they are acting helpless you can pretend that your legs have turned to jello, or when in doubt put on music and do a silly dance. Humor is surprising and can lift everyone’s spirits. Remember, when people feel better they do better. A good laugh is sometimes all you need to turn a bad situation around.
Cooperation allows everyone to win and learn to work together! Plus it is a great lifeskill to teach our children. Try one of these four tips the next time you are feeling exasperated and see the power of winning children over!