Teaching cooperativeness to children

Introducing chores into your child’s life can sometimes be quite the battle; explore suggestions for getting through this phase.

Three-year-olds can help put toys away. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Three-year-olds can help put toys away. Photo credit: Pixabay.

The sweet little faces of children can bring parents joy and frustration when they start growing and so do their messes. At some point, parents start thinking, “That’s enough – he needs to start helping clean up.” Usually parents’ attempts to involve children in cleaning are met with I-don’t-hear-you behavior and when parents press a bit more, they are met with very vocal defiance. Often it can end in an all-out battle with the parent giving in. So, how can this behavior be corrected and where do you start?

According to Vanderbilt University’s Center on the Social and Emotional Foundation for Early Learning, it helps if parents’ expectations are developmentally appropriate:

  • Three-year-olds can put dirty clothes, clean clothes, books, toys and shoes away. They can put trash in the trash can; clean the table; put unbreakable dishes in the sink; put napkins on the table and wash their own hands.
  • Four-year-olds can put food in pet dishes; put silverware on the table; wash themselves in the bath tub; put their clothes on; put clothes away; brush their teeth; pick up toys on request and put outside toys where they belong outside.
  • Five-year-olds can follow routines and family rules; ask permission to do activities; perform simple chores and independently perform self-care chores.

If the child has a delay or disability, a parent might complete part of the task or provide instructions using different pictures, words or gestures.

Children will meet their parents’ expectations. A parent can start by stating very precisely and clearly, using few words, what they want the child to do. For example, “David, put all the cups in the sink.” Stay away from vague instructions such as, “David, clean the table.” When directions are not clear, children may not perform to the parents’ expectations. During those times when children don’t meet the parents’ expectations, a parent can start by helping to demonstrate how to do the job. It is very important that once the child attempts or succeeds to reinforce their behavior with praise: “I like the way you put all the shoes in the shoe box.”

At times, children may refuse to cooperate. First, parents can check in on what may be going on with their children. Some of the reasons for not cooperating could include:

  1. They did not hear you
  2. They may have needed a warning or transition time
  3. They may have not understood
  4. They might be used to negative attention.

A parent can start by getting on the child’s level and getting his or her attention, being very clear. A child may continue to play and refuse to stop and cooperate. The parent can follow with, “I know you want to play. You can play for five more minutes then we need to pick up.” Sometimes a child will be angry. A parent can acknowledge the child’s feelings: “I see you are angry,” and then state their expectations. “The bed needs to be made when you calm down.” Then wait until the child calms down before repeating directives. For a child that is slow at getting started, simply tell them, “I’ll pick up one, then you do the rest.” For a child that likes control, give them a choice. For the child that lacks enthusiasm, have a race.

Children that help out feel connected and valued – emotions that are invaluable as you foster cooperativeness in them.

For more articles on child development, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.


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