Ways to Get Kids to Co-operate More

Wouldn't a bit more co-operation be nice? With some children (my Em included), co-operation doesn't come easy, so I've needed a repertoire of tricks and talents to motivate her to go with the flow. I thought I'd share some today:

Distraction -

It's amazing how well a "come over here and have a look at this" can work when a child is building up to a tantrum and getting to the point where they'll refuse to do anything you ask. My other distraction favourites are putting something funny on my head, pretending to eat a teddy bear, foot or shoe or pulling a funny face similar to the angry or sad one in front of me. I've always found that this technique works way better with Ed, who is more easy-going, then with Em, who is much more head strong and way harder to distract.

Keeping Kids Busy -

If kids have something to do, they are for more patient and easy-going than if they're bored and waiting. When the kids were little I would always time my grocery shops at lunch time, so they could sit in the trolley and eat their lunch while I would get my shopping done. Going to restaurants, I'd have a small bag full of things for them to do while we were waiting. Sometimes it was as simple as a tic tac box, a car, a notepad and a cream container with a hole cut n the top and some rocks inside, but I always made sure the activity fit where the kids were at and was easy and fun to do.

Making Your Communication Count -

Getting down to your child's level and asking them to look at your face when you are talking can make a huge difference to how what you are saying is received. I like to hold their hand or gently put my hand on their shoulder too, to give them some sort of physical contact. Really taking the time to let them know that talking to them is important to you helps kids to value what you are saying. It also lets you know your child is really listening. It's great to get them to repeat back to you what they've heard too.

Mind Your Language -

Don't use too many words. Keep your language very simple. Don’t go into lengthy explanations or detailed accounts of what is going on. Use the same words every time you want a particular thing to happen. Simply say ‘Stop’ when you want them to stop what they are doing. Say “listen’ when you really want them to focus on what you are saying.

Break Down Tasks -

Children can find tasks very overwhelming. They are yet to develop the skills to break down a task into small, achievable blocks. Instead of asking a child to eat their dinner, ask them to eat their carrots, then their meat, then their potato. Instead of asking them to pack up their toys, ask them to put their dolls away, then their cars, then their blocks. Instead of asking them to get dressed, ask them to put on their singlet, then their t-shirt, then their jeans. And try not to say general things like "Be good". Instead say "when we're at the doctors', you need to keep your voice quiet and stay close to mummy".

Always Have a Consequence You're Prepared to Follow Through With -

This sometimes requires a little forward thinking, it's hard to think of things in the heat of the moment. It's great if the consequence somehow directly relates to what is going on. In the above scenario for example, if your child isn't "keeping her voice quiet and staying close to mummy", you could remind her once - "Remember, at the doctors, you need to keep your voice quiet and stay close to me". Remind her again but with a consequence this time - "Listen, if you cant remember to stay close to me, you'll have to come and sit on my lap". And then follow through by bringing her to sit on your lap. After a couple of minutes, you might like to let her play quietly again, reminding her that if she can't, she'll need to come back on your lap again. A consequence isn't a punishment. I believe you need to give kids a chance to regulate their own behaviour and then help them if they can't manage on their own.

Make It Fun -

Appealing to a child's sense of play and fun is a great way to get things done and is one I use a lot. If we all need to go somewhere, we hop aboard the "Butler Bus". For a quiet, hassle free dinner we pretend we're in a cafe or restaurant and I'm the waiter and the kids are dining by themselves. When we have to be quiet, we pretend to be little mice. To get dressed or run toys to their room I'll time them and see if they can beat their personal best and I've written before about our packing up games. If you make it fun, kids don't even realise they're doing it.

Acknowledge Feelings -

Feelings can be very overwhelming for young children. Sometimes, they don’t really want to upset you, cause trouble or make a scene, it’s just that right at that minute, they are feeling something so intensely that they can’t control themselves. If you can try to be a little understanding when this happens, it can take you a long way. Try acknowledging your child’s feelings “I know this is making you really cross/upset/frustrated, you want to stay and play, but it’s time to go, we can come back on the weekend” or “I know you don’t really love eating vegetables, but they have so many vitamins and minerals in them that are good for your body”. Acknowledging how your child must be feeling gives them a little validation and makes them feel a little bit better about the situation. There’s nothing worse then when nothing is going your way and no-one understands how you feel.

Having Something to Look Forward to -

If I have errands to run, I'll always leave something til last that the kids will enjoy doing. This could be, choosing a DVD from the DVD shop, looking at the toy department, choosing something special for lunchboxes, getting a tasty bun for afternoon tea. That way, they look forward to it and are more likely to co-operate along the way. On the rare occasion they don't co-operate with the few things I need to get done, we simply don't get to do the fun thing at the end.

Taking Time Out -

Sometimes, the only way to deal with a situation that has gone to far is to have some time out. I know not everyone is a fan of "time-out", but I think it depends on how you use it. If a situation gets me fired up, I like to remove myself from it, calm down and then discuss it rationally, with a clear head. I explain this technique to the kids to and that's how we see it. I never say, you've got a time out, I always say, "I think you need to go to your room and calm down a bit". A lot of the time I will say "You can come out when you feel calmer and we can talk about this then". But sometimes I say "You need to stay in there for 5 minutes and I'll be in to see you then". This works well with Em whose emotions can sometimes get the better of her and she actually finds it a helpful technique. She'll often take herself to her room and say "I just need some time by myself". Because we've consistently used this technique and had this dialogue over the years, she's now able to recognise her feelings and regulate her own behaviour. Which I think is the ultimate goal of any behaviour guidance.

What tips do you have to get more co-operation at your house?


  1. I totally agree with you Belinda, inparticular about acknowledging feelings. We have always done this with our daughter, we have found she gets over being upset (hurt physically or emotionally) much quicker when we acknowledge her feelings and 'help' name those feelings. We also explain to her that we adults also have those same feelings sometime too.
    It makes me so cross when some parents say "you're ok" to children when they are hurt when clearly the child isn't. If we adults fall and hurt ourselves, we wouldn't be ok so why expect children to get over things immediately.
    We have found our 4 year old is better able to understand when other children are upset and she is able to empathise with them and be caring.

  2. Thanks for that, I absolutely agree with you - children get over things way more easily when they're being acknowledged. And I love your point about helping her to name feelings and acknowledging that adults have them too. It's really important to teach our kids about their feelings.

  3. Absolutely agree also. Do you feel that playing together and learning negotiation skills in the playground helps children to cooperate better?

  4. Definitely. Children need to learn social skills at every opportunity and the more they are taught to think about and understand other people, the better they will co-operate. Thanks for reading and sharing!