Parenting can often be a contest of wills, especially when it comes to encouraging children to cooperate. You need your child to complete a task, but they refuse to comply, leaving you searching for strategies to encourage children to cooperate. So, what’s next?
As a pediatrician, I frequently request children’s participation in tasks they may not favor. Here are my top eight suggestions for gaining a child’s cooperation.
Engage Their Interest
You must command your child’s attention if you expect them to listen, just as they require your complete focus before performing a handstand in the pool or knocking down a tower of blocks. If your child does not brush their teeth after you have reminded them five times, it is conceivable that they did not hear you. (These plastic dinosaurs are rather captivating.)
When beginning a physical exam, as a pediatrician, I always ensure that my patient is not distracted by a toy or game, make eye contact, and then speak directly to them, regardless of age.
You can employ the same technique at bedtime:
- Face your youngster directly.
- Give them a warm-up cue: “Bedtime is approaching.”
- Then immediately add instructions: “It’s time to wash your teeth. Let’s visit the restroom.”
When an adult acts foolish, toddlers always submit to a parent or physician. Karen Carson, M.D., a physician in Roswell, New Mexico, transforms the physical exam into a game: “I tell the children that I see Elmo, Dory, or Spider-Man in their ear. I continue with elephants in my stomach and monkeys in my mouth. When I’m in a hurry, my patients are frequently angry if I miss something.
You can utilize Dr. Carson’s approach in various situations, such as when changing a 1-year-diaper old’s or applying bug spray on a 5-year-old eager to play. Try the following while performing a task that requires their cooperation:
- Search for a character.
- Sing and tell a tale.
- Create weird noises.
When I was in medical school, I believed it was respectful to ask preschoolers to hop onto the exam table. I was shocked by how many refused. I eventually discovered that, unlike adults, toddlers do not comprehend that a courteous question means “Do this!”
Hence, I now rely on upbeat commands such as “Get on the exam table,” “Open your lips,” and “Turn toward me,” and my patients are often pleased to comply.
In addition, research indicates that children don’t completely comprehend sarcasm and irony until around the age of 10, so employing them to encourage good behavior is unlikely to be effective.
Use Words They Can Comprehend
You can also learn from your child’s communication style. Compare the phrases they use to ask a friend to do something with the terms you would have used to make the same request. The next time you ask them to clean their room, put on their coat, or sit down for dinner, try using their exact words.
Consider perhaps you need to tone down your vocabulary if that fails. When I mention I will use my otoscope, some children react with surprise when I insert it into their ear canal. When I refer to it as an “ear looker,” though, they swiftly shift their head to the side to assist me. Talk in simple sentences or two different ways to state the same thing; your youngster will comprehend you better and may even pick up a new word!
Children are most likely to comply if they do not feel rushed. However, parents frequently do not give children sufficient time to follow instructions. Youngsters are unable to switch tasks fast or effortlessly. If you’re bored of repeating yourself, give your child extra time to react. You will be astonished by how frequently the majority of children eventually comply with your instructions.
Kristina Robert, a pediatric emergency room nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, convinces children to swallow even the most repulsive medicine by taking her time. “I will deliver it one drop at a time if a child resists,” she explains. A youngster is unable to spit up a single drop. In addition, it is more productive to be slow and successful than to have to begin again when a patient rejects a full dose.
As for myself, I never immediately examine a child’s wounded knee or listen to their heartbeat when they are anxious. I begin by listening to their foot with a stethoscope and work my way up to their chest, or I examine their healthy knee first.
Children, like all of us, like to know what to expect, so if your child is avoiding the hairbrush, try using it on their arm or stomach first. Obviously, it’s great to have another trick up your sleeve when you’re in a hurry. My own children used to take an eternity to walk from the elevator to the dentist’s office, but now we play “Red light, green light,” a game that allows me complete control over their pace.
Give Your Child a Choice
Pediatrician at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, Kathleen Romero, M.D., allows her patients to choose which ear she examines first. The method is equally effective with Carter, her 18-month-old son. “I’ll ask, ‘Do you want to walk to the car, or would you rather I carry you?'”
“Choices are effective so long as both possibilities result in the desired behavior,” she explains. And if they refuse to choose, then it is your cue to inform them that you will choose for them.
Provide an Explanation
When you cannot provide your child with a choice, it is helpful to explain your reasoning. For instance, if your child does not comprehend why he or she cannot touch the stove, instruct him or her, “Don’t touch it! Instead of saying “No,” they exclaimed, “Ouch!
Older children are more in need of hearing your argument since they can be persuaded by it. Instance: When I explain that we must block the sun’s cancer-causing UV radiation, my patients and my children are more eager to apply sunscreen.
Encourage your children to communicate their own thought processes; it will help them develop negotiation skills, an essential social ability. Perhaps your youngster desires to forgo piano practice tonight. Instead of immediately rejecting their request, allow them to explain their reasoning.
If they present a valid reason, such as wanting to spend time with their family and vowing to practice more later in the week, it is OK to let them off the hook. Just don’t give in if they beg and cry to obtain what they want; that’s not a negotiation strategy you want to encourage.
Identify a Thing to Praise
Even if a youngster bites my tongue depressor during their throat culture, I will conclude the appointment by praising their performance during, for example, the ear exam. When my patients are anxious, highlighting their accomplishments inspires confidence and pride. When children feel good about their actions, they want to repeat them.
The idea is to limit appreciation to a single task. After dinner, for instance, you might add, “I noticed you placed your plate in the sink immediately after we finished eating. Instead of “You’re such a fantastic helper,” say, “I’m proud of you for assisting without being asked.”
Without question, children like meeting their parents’ expectations. After picking up his toys, my seven-year-old son’s toothless grin will never be forgotten. Even though all he had done was place his belongings beneath the bed, he was incredibly proud.
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