Partnering with your child to find a solution to a problem they have is one of the most effective ways to get a child to cooperate. Involving them in brainstorming and selecting a solutions gives them control and motivation over the situation, as well as ownership over the outcome.
This has worked great with everyday tasks that Ay sometimes resists. Brushing teeth comes to mind. From when she was 2, it was a struggle every morning. Everyday she resisted having her teeth brushed. It frustrated me and we used to take way too long to get a necessary. but what was becoming a combative task, done.
In those times though, I try to pause and reflect when I have a quieter, calmer moment to myself. Usually when young kids protest persistently and consistently against, I pay attention. They may not be verbal or articulate enough to communicate what the issue is, but more often than not, there is always one – maybe something hurts, or is uncomfortable or they develop a negative association that seems very real to a young child’s mind. When we can’t access this information, my default way is to trust and follow the child.
In those circumstances, I say, for example “We really need to brush your teeth to keep the germies away. I see you don’t like it very much. How can I make this easier for you?” or “What would help you have your teeth brushed?” And you can brainstorm together – come up with silly suggestions and some incredulous one. Have a laugh over it and then suggest some actual ones that work and let the child choose one that is agreeable. For us, counting helped so Ay knew when a round would finish giving her more predictability and control. So we counted from 1 to 20. To make it more fun, I count in different languages for each row of teeth. Another mum I know sings a song and stops when the song is done.
Partnering with Ay to problem solving worked wonders the other night when Ay was feeling fearful. Since it’s Halloween season, every mall and every store is decked out in creepy, spooky themed decor. Lots of fun for adults. Maybe not so much for some little kids.
Ay has the very fertile imagination of a typical 4 year old. When she is playing, her imagination serves her marvelously well – a stick can become a wand, her dolls can join her for a tea party, and pebbles turn into cars. It’s not so fun for her when the spooky decor inspires to imagine things hanging in cupboards or in dark corners. Since the beginning of this month, her fears have multiplied. She wants lights turned in all the rooms and she doesn’t want to play any longer with a skeleton puzzle she once loved. Through this we have acknowledged and validated her fears and do what makes her feel more comfortable.
A couple of nights back, we were getting ready for bed and she suddenly didn’t like the shelves in the cupboard facing our bed. I offered to shut the doors. When I did that she didn’t like that the translucent doors created dark patterns behind them. At this point, I was out of ideas and not sure what to do next. And I also needed her to go to sleep and not get distracted and wide awake.
So I asked her, “What would you like me to do?” “What will help you feel less afraid?” She thought for a bit and said, “Can we put something in the shelf?” And so thought some more about what that could be. We decided on her beloved dolls. We lined her stuffed toys and dolls along the shelves. She seemed satisfied, reported she felt better, got tucked in and went to sleep after a while.
Partnering with your child to solve a problem that is troubling them is a valuable exercise that has far reaching benefits. For younger children, you may have to provide the alternatives but older children may come up with the options themselves. Ay loves the brainstorming process because it allows her to stretch her imagination to come up with all sorts of options and find one that works for both of us. It HAS to work for both of you, of course! Not only will your child be more co-operative but you are also teaching them important skills of brainstorming, creative thinking, critical thinking and decision making.
Winning at parenting and preparing them for adulting!