I recently realized that I was easily spending my days trying to get my 5-year-old to do things – “eat your breakfast” (before it’s already time for lunch), “say please and thank you to the neighbors” (otherwise they would think I am a bad parent). My requests were full of many DON’T’S- “don’t hit your little sister”, “don’t run in the stairs”, “don’t run away while I am putting on your sunscreen”.

I know I had the best intentions, but it seemed like my communication with my son comprised mainly of never-ending nagging, lecturing, reminding, and cajoling. I was exhausted. And has my child become more loving and cooperative as a result? Absolutely not. 

Oftentimes, many parents find themselves feeling drained as they come up against uncooperative behavior and feeling powerless about navigating different situations at home.  In reality, it’s only natural that force will create more resistance, power struggles, and pushback. It is not only children but also adults who often tend to resist being told what to do. Direct orders often provoke direct opposition. While we hope to inspire obedience in our children, we often just stir up rebellion.

So, what can we do to solicit the cooperation of a small but mighty child? If we can’t tell them what to do, what’s left?

In their book “How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen” Joanna Faber and Julie King suggest a variety of tools for engaging cooperation.

Tool #1 Be Playful

Being playful is probably the last thing on our minds when children are being uncooperative. But if you are willing and, in the mood, to try it, you may be surprised by its unusually powerful effect.

One technique that is quite impactful with little children is to make an inanimate object talk. Hungry toy boxes can whine “I am hungry. Feed me cars! I want the blues ones first!” Toothbrushes can use their best tough-guy voice “Quick- let me in here. I think I have seen a germ hiding behind that molar. Let me take care of it”.  The use of clamoring objects will bring a smile to a child’s face and a more willing attitude.

Experiment with your silly side, talk like a sports announcer or your child’s favorite cartoon character. With the spirit of play almost any tedious task can be turned into a pleasant and fun activity. And that’s an important life skill that we can teach the children early on.

Tool # 2: Give information

At times, it’s enough to give simple information instead of an order. Not only can one avoid the natural resistance that comes from a direct order, but the groundwork is laid for your child to develop the ability to exercise self-control.

Instead of, “Stop banging on that keyboard. You are going to break it.”

Give information: “Keyboards are delicate. All they need is a very light touch.”

One of the beauties of this tool is that even if your child doesn’t act on it, you can move on to another tool without feeling the sting of direct defiance.

Tool #3: Say it with a Word

Let’s face it- much of what we say to our children when we try to get them to listen to us is a repeat performance. They have heard it all before.

Instead of “Pick your jacket up off the floor and hang it on the hook”

Try to just say “Jacket.”

One of the nicest things about one-word statements is that you can use them when you are relaxed or upset. 

For more tools and tried and tested strategies to navigate the everyday challenges of life with young children, check out “How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen” by Joanna Faber and Julie King.