How to Get My Child to Cooperate…

By Joseph Sacks, LCSW

Almost every parent has thought at some point, “I don’t know how to get my child to cooperate.”

You may feel like you are at your wits’ end, unsure what else you can try to improve your child’s behavior and compliance. The following suggestions are based on the work of Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, renowned parenting experts, synthesized with my own ideas that come from my research, training and experience helping parents and children learn to communicate and cooperate. Please bear in mind that the principles I offer here represent a parenting ideal, and I don’t expect anyone to fulfil them perfectly. So have patience with yourself and your child, and try to implement new ideas gradually.

How To Get My Child to Cooperate: Give Information Instead of Commands

How to Get my child to Cooperate - Tribeca Play Therapy - NY, NY

When you give a child orders or criticism, it threatens his or her ego and puts him in no mood to comply, Therefore, instead of criticizing or commanding, describe and give information. For example, instead of saying, “How many times have I told you to shut off the bathroom light?” say, “The light is on in the bathroom.” Your child feels less bossed around and less criticized and is more likely to comply. Instead of saying, “Get off the phone,” say, “I need the phone.” Rather than asking, “Who left the milk out, put it back,” give information and say, “Milk turns sour when left out, kids.” Instead of offering a rebuke, “What a disgusting mess you made,” say, “That stuff belongs in the garbage.” Try to avoid threats, “If you write on the walls again, you’re punished.” As an alternative, say “Walls are not for writing on, paper is.”  Instead of saying, “You never help me with setting the table, do it now!” say “It would be great if the table would be set.” Giving children information puts them in the driver seat and empowers them to choose what needs to be done by themselves. 

Further How To Get My Child To Cooperate: Keep It Brief

Instead of asking a long question or offering a lengthy command, say one word only. Rather than saying, “How many times do I have to tell you to get ready for bed, stop what you’re doing now and get undressed or I’m going to get angry,” just say “Kids, Pajamas.” Instead of, “You’re walking out the door again without your lunch, you’re so forgetful. How many times do I have to remind you to take it with you?” say “Sammy, your lunch.” Instead of saying, “You promised that when we got a dog you would feed him every day and we are sick of doing it for you. How many times do we have to remind you?” Keep it short and say, “Billy, the dog.” Kids dislike hearing long sermons and explanations and are more likely to comply with shorter commands. The shorter the better.

Talk About Your Feelings

Instead of criticizing or putting down your child, talk about how his or her behavior makes you feel. Instead of saying, “Stop hitting me, you’re such a pain,” say, “I don’t like being hit like that.” Replace criticism – “What’s wrong with you, you always leave the door open” – with a statement about how you were affected – “It bothers me when the door is left open.” Instead of saying, “You’re rude, you always interrupt,” say, “It’s frustrating to me when I start saying something and I can’t finish.” Express your feelings without attacking. By describing what we feel we come across genuine instead of hurtful or bossy, and this encourages compliance and cooperation. When met with disrespect, state your values, “In our house we don’t speak to people that way.” Famed Psychologist Haim Ginott said, “Hurl values, not insults, hurl feelings, not criticism.” Wise words indeed.

Write Strategic Notes

A cool idea is to write a note to your child and leave it strategically placed around the house. It’s much easier to accept being told what do when the command is expressed in this form. The time and forethought taken by writing a note expresses great respect for the reader and encourages cooperation. Instead of angrily reminding your kids to be quiet, write a note and stick it on the door saying, “Shhh, mommy is sleeping.” Rather than bossing your kids into doing their homework, tape a note to the T.V. saying, “before you turn this on, think, have I done my homework?” Write a note when you want or need help, “I know you’re busy but the dishes need doing,” or, “Please put towels back so they can dry.” One fabulous example of using notes to encourage cooperation is of a mother who flew a paper airplane written with “toys away after play” into her children’s room. The kids couldn’t read, but they brought the note to mom who read it to them, and they happily cleaned up their toys! 

How to Get my child to Cooperate - Tribeca Play Therapy - NY, NY

The basic idea for how to get my child to cooperate is to avoid speaking in a way that makes him or her feel bad, controlled or bossed around. 

For a great secret about how to get kids to follow directions, click here.

If you find yourself worrying, “I don’t know how to get my child to cooperate,” you are not alone. But, with the right resources and support – and a little patience – you can learn how to implement the rules in this post, reduce misbehavior and encourage compliance in your child.

For more information on parenting and addressing challenges with your child, I invite you to explore my interesting blog, read through the specialty pages on this website, or download one of my informative free reports for parents. If you need help getting your child to cooperate and would like guidance or treatment from a child psychotherapist in lower Manhattan, you may call me at 646-681-1707 for a free 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!

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