Encouraging Cooperation

5 Cooperation Strategies

Make it fun.

"Preschoolers look at life as one big game," says Pantley. "So a playful approach can mean the difference between resistance and compliance." For example, if your child balks at getting ready for bed, set the kitchen timer for five minutes and challenge him to try to beat the clock. If he's dawdling on his way out the door in the morning, adopt a brisk, goofy walk and encourage him to follow in your footsteps. These simple games might seem silly, but they can deliver results.

Share your memories.

Tell your preschooler a couple of stories about when you were a child, suggests Dr. Levy. Make sure you include anecdotes that involve both good and bad behavior. This will help your child realize that you can relate to what he's going through. Plus, kids are more likely to pay attention to the moral of these stories because you're not lecturing them directly.

Steer away from surprises.

"Four- and 5-year-olds are sensitive to the smallest disruptions in their routine, says Pantley. "But with a little warning ahead of time, they can be flexible." She suggests creating a family calendar with your child, where you can map out anything from upcoming doctor's appointments to overnight visits to Grandma's house. You can hang it in her bedroom or in a common area, like the kitchen, so she'll see it frequently. The bottom line: If your child knows what's in store, she's far less likely to create a fuss when the scheduled event arrives.

Make your expectations clear.

In cases where you urgently need cooperation (such as when you're racing to get to preschool on time or to cash a check before the bank closes), resist the impulse to bark commands. "Time-crunched parents have a tendency to shout instructions from the next room," says Pantley. "The problem is that preschoolers might not even fully understand they're being addressed." Instead, take a moment to get eye to eye with your child and issue a brief, actionable request. For example, consider saying, "Please put on your shoes and find your raincoat now," rather than "We're late -- let's hurry!"

Don't overdo the rewards.

You might be tempted to elicit everyday cooperation with treats ("If you behave in the supermarket, I'll give you a cookie"), but try to avoid this strategy. "Ultimately, you want your child to cooperate because she's interested in making others happy -- not because she's getting a prize," points out Dr. Levy. If you've already fallen into this pattern, cut back until you're rewarding a string of good behavior rather than a single situation.

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