How to Encourage Cooperation in Preschoolers

cooperateParents often dread the Terrible Twos and feel a sense of relief once their kids get past that stage. Unfortunately, many parents find the same challenges happening with their preschoolers too. Children at this age are still struggling with independence, so it’s no wonder that getting them to happily cooperate can be a struggle. Here are some ways to encourage cooperation and create a more peaceful environment.

Offer lots of choices. Rather than telling your child what you’ve decided, offer her a few choices and let her make the final decision. Giving her options and letting her choose will give her some power over different situations throughout the day and will lessen her need to stubbornly oppose whatever you suggest. Often, a child doesn’t disagree with what you’re proposing. She simply disagrees with the idea of being told what to do. When you allow her to have control over simple things, it encourages her to cooperate rather than dig her heels in. Avoid open-ended questions like, “Would you like to help clean up the playroom now?” because the answer will almost always be no. Also, make sure you only offer options that you’ll be comfortable with. Avoid questions like, “Would you like to brush your teeth?” Instead ask, “Would you like to brush your teeth before or after we read our bedtime books?”

Get kids involved in problem solving. Kids can come up with lots of creative solutions to problems if given the chance. When you’re struggling with a particular issue, whether it’s getting out the door on time in the morning or picking up the playroom, ask your child for his ideas on how he’d solve the problem. Of course, many of his solutions are going to be impractical or silly, but with some gentle guidance he will probably come up with some workable solutions too. When you use one of his ideas, he’s much more likely to actually follow through because he was part of the problem solving process. This is also an important life skill that will help him with friends and at school.

Reinforce positive efforts. When you “catch” your preschooler helping out, make sure to let him know how much you appreciate his efforts. When children feel that their efforts are an important part of making good things happen they’re much more likely to continue to help out. Remember the effort doesn’t have to be a big one. Focus on the small things and soon you’ll be seeing bigger and more frequent efforts. So when your child helps you set the table for dinner, puts his clothes in the hamper after a bath, or gets ready for school without reminders, make sure you give him a big thank you and a hug.

Make your expectations clear. When you ask for your child’s help, does she know exactly what you want her to do? Often, instructions that seem very clear to an adult are confusing to a child. Encourage your child’s cooperation by being very clear about what you’re asking and giving examples of what the behavior looks like. Instead of saying, “Please help me clean up your room,” you can say something like, “Let’s work together to get all your books neatly stacked on the bookshelf and to put all your toys into your toy box.” By being specific, you’re helping your child be successful in the tasks she’s doing.

Break the task down in smaller, more manageable pieces. Many children get overwhelmed by big tasks. They don’t know where to start or how to get from the beginning to the end. By taking a bigger task and breaking it down into smaller, more manageable pieces you can guide your child through it step by step. By tackling each step individually, he will successfully make his way through the whole list and accomplish the bigger task without struggling. Feeling successful will make him want to take on more and more challenges.

Add some fun! Even everyday tasks like cleaning up after playing or getting dressed in the morning can be made fun by adding silly songs and games. Find ways to make things fun for your child and you’ll see cooperation automatically go up. That might mean singing a funny song while he cleans up his toys, playing a counting game while he brushes his teeth or pretending to be a dragon while he puts his clothes away in his “cave.” Letting your child’s imagination run wild during boring tasks will make it more fun for you and him.

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