Kids respond best when given a choice

A parent once told me that once her child understood why she needed him to co-operate he surely would.

"Mind you," she continued, "he hasn't yet co-operated but I'm certain it will happen soon."

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She believed she just needed to continue to explain and then wait patiently until he got it.

The problem is that our children have no particular interest in what we need from them, so simply explaining our needs isn't effective.

They don't care if the living room is a mess, they can't understand why they should use utensils to eat when hands work so well, and they have no interest in getting dressed in the morning and out of the house on time.

So we need to teach them to co-operate. In her book Perfect Parenting, Elizabeth Pantley notes that "it will take practice, patience and persistence on your part" to encourage your children to co-operate willingly on a regular basis.

Firstly, because our kids are not interested in what we need from them, we need to be very clear with them.

Often we hint around, saying something like, "it would be great if we could all get ready on time in the morning." Instead, let them know exactly what you want.

For older kids you can say, "I need you to get dressed; collect your backpack and be at the door ready to leave the house by 8: 15 every morning."

Younger kids may need a chart to remind them what to do, or you can ask them to do one thing at a time.

"I need you to put on your sweater right now so we can leave."

Offering choices is often effective. Kids respond better when they have an option. So instead of demanding that they empty the dishwasher you can say, "you have a choice. Would you like to empty the dishwasher or dust the living room?"

They may come up with a third option that could include doing nothing. You then let them know that wasn't one of the choices. If they refuse to choose, you can choose for them.

Don't expect an instant response. For example, if your kids are watching a television program or in the middle of a video game, let them know that you need something done once they are finished. And be pretty specific. "I need the table set by six o'clock so can you please do it during the commercial or right after your program?"

Tell them what you see and what therefore needs doing. "There are dirty dishes on the coffee table and they need to be put away.

So, please take them to the kitchen and load them in the dishwasher." Then pause and assume they will follow through.

If they ignore you, repeat the comment and add that you need them taken in now.

Sometimes a little silliness will go a long way to encourage co-operation. Have the pyjamas talk to your three-year-old. Use a silly voice and have the pj's tell him that they are lonely and want to cover his lovely body. He will giggle and soon he's in his pyjamas and ready for bed.

Grandma's Rule is another great way to encourage child cooperation. That is the when/ then technique. "When all the dishes are cleared and in the dishwasher, then you can get on the computer.

"As soon as you're all ready for bed, we can read a book."

Have a positive attitude, your kids aren't trying to be unco-operative, and they just have no stake in doing what matters to you.

Be clear about what you need from them.

And when they do cooperate say thank you.

Kathy Lynn is a professional speaker and author of Who's In Charge Anyway? and But Nobody Told Me I'd Ever Have to Leave Home. If you want to read more, sign up for her informational newsletter at

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