The Cooperative Child

I recently read an article that got me thinking about eliciting cooperation from a child. The article referred to everyday things that we wish our children would do without complaint (such as wiping noses, cutting finger nails). I have heard and been recommended many ways to get your children to cooperate, from bribes (“if you do this then you get an ice cream”) through to yelling (“do it or else”). I started thinking about our own experiences dealing with this issue and thought I would share successful instances we have had with facilitating a helpful and cooperative attitude from Joshua.

At the park – time to leave

Our little family went down to the park and had a grand old afternoon, Joshua spent lots of time running around the park, climbing, swinging, bouncing and sliding. We wished that the afternoon would never end; it was the perfect day! It was the first time that Joshua had been to an adventure playground and the first time in a very long time that my husband or I had been.

As the time to leave approached, I made sure to remind Joshua at regular intervals that we would be leaving soon so that it would not be a shock when it was time to go. Time came up and we had to go as dinner time was approaching. When it came time to put Joshua in the car he resisted and cried out, clearly wanting to run back to the playground for more fun time. He struggled to get out of his seat and started crying. He did not want to leave. This was looking like it was going to escalate into a tantrum (hooray!), and a wonderful time of the day it was too for a meltdown! We could have demanded Joshua to sit in his seat and endured the storm of tears and tantrums.  Instead I chose to look him in the eye and I said quietly “Joshua I did tell you that we need to go. The reason we need to go is because I need to go home and start making dinner otherwise we will be hungry. Could you please sit back in your seat so that I can buckle you in?” He stopped crying, stopped struggling. Looked at me and sat back in his seat and threaded his arms into the straps. I buckled Joshua up and again looked him in the eyes and said “Thank you for helping Mummy, you are so helpful when you are listening and cooperating. I promise we will go to the park again tomorrow.

There is sense of inner pride for Joshua at being able to make the decision to sit back in his seat rather than being forced to. There is also inner pride from me to see how far he has come in just 21 months.

Nappy changes – a sense of dignity

I often see posts on nappy changes on forums as well as been asked myself several times about this issue. How do we get Joshua to cooperate with us at change time? It became obvious very quickly that Joshua would not let me change his nappy lying down, especially when he started pulling to stand. This quickly became very unpleasant when he decided to start kicking. Hard. Was he being defiant? I don’t believe so. I believe he was telling me “I don’t like it when you do that Mama, I am not a baby”. So we quickly made the decision to start doing nappy changes standing up. Yes, it was harder work for us at that point as he was still in nappies, but ultimately far more engaging for Joshua as he became an active participant. He would help to get wipes and place them and soiled trainers in the bucket for disposal, grabbing fresh trainers to wear, and getting to decide which ones he would prefer to wear (he usually picks the colourful ones rather than the plain white ones!).

This does not mean or imply that we never have any issues with cooperation in our home. As with any approach a parent pursues, it takes time to implement, time to reinforce and time for the appropriate learning to occur. We have had our fair share of situations where sometimes Joshua won’t cooperate and has had a tantrum, just as every parent does. But our experience so far has seen a decrease in the frequency of tantrums, as well as the intensity of Joshua’s reaction to things once I acknowledge his feelings and explain things to him. As with everything this is a slow process of teaching Joshua to understand that he can’t have everything his own way and learning to control his emotions.

What resonates most with me is that this approach allows Joshua to choose to do things himself and not to interrupt a child if they are immersed in an activity (unless absolutely necessary), both core Montessori principles. As with most issues requiring child cooperation such as toilet learning, nappy changes, getting into the car, changes in activities (an exhaustive list), it has remained important to us to remain emotionally detached from the process so that we are able to model the correct behaviour. Our desire to allow Joshua freedom within limits is driven by our love and respect for him. Even though he might not always like it he needs to learn self control, be offered acceptable choices (circumstances permitting) and learn patience. We provide opportunities to practice these things through instances as they arise and by modelling acceptable behaviour.

Another link that I found extremely useful and helpful is an article written by The Full Montessori. It is full of helpful Montessori strategies and tools to use at home that are also in the same vein.

I refer to this article a few times a month since I read it. The steps are simple, do-able and logical and a good reminder for when things get frustrating. We pick our battles and decide what is important. For every family this is different but we draw a line and try to remain consistent.

If you have any other links and resources that you find helpful I would love to read it, please feel free to share them.


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