Teaching children to cooperate

Teach young children to behave and be helpful with these supportive, age-appropriate techniques.

If you are a parent you have probably come across a situation in which you asked your toddler to do something and the child simply says “no,” pretends s/he doesn’t hear you or acts out. There are simple techniques parents can use that may be helpful.

According to PBS, parents can start by using requests that are simple, being very precise and clear. For example using the term “clean up” can cover too broad and unclear an expectation. Using more precise wording, for example, “Put the shoes in this box,” would be clear for a small child. Parents are also encouraged to praise a child’s effort. Keep in mind we are teaching and expect the child to not be perfect.

Toddlers love to be helpful and respond to the attention and praise of their parents. Parents can start by having their child help. For example, “You pick up the blocks and mommy/daddy will pick up the books.” Keeping distractions to a minimum will also be helpful. When the child does cooperate, praise and be clear, for example, “I like the way you put the blocks in the box so nicely.”

Sometimes children refuse. Parents should take a deep breath; it is important to remain calm. Briefly look at the situation and consider what is going on with the child. Once the parent has an understanding, the parent can get down to the child’s level and state, “I can see you do not want to stop playing. You can play three minutes; I’ll time you, then you need to stop and pick up the blocks.” If the child is angry, a parent can state, “I can see you are angry now. When you calm down, you need to pick up the blocks.” A parent can also give the child a choice of what task the child wants to do. The parent can say, “Let’s see who gets done first,” or “Who picks up the most,” or play beat the clock.

It is also important for parents to be aware of what is appropriate developmentally for their child. A child that has delays may be limited in some areas, but can still help and feel proud. There will still be times when a child won’t be cooperative; this is normal. Some techniques will work with some children and others will not. A parent can try different approaches and see what works well with their child.

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