Growing Cooperation In Young Children
I just spent the last four days caring for my three grandchildren—a three year old and fifteen month old walking, running and climbing twins—while their parents were away. I am filled with joy at spending that intimate time with them, exhaustion over the non-stop work it entails, and total awe at the job that my son and daughter-in-law along with so many parents do today. They both work and come home to the constant onslaught of little people’s needs and demands with hardly a moment for their own.
There are ways to make the demands of parenting young children both easier for you and more effective for your children. It is so important to be able to listen and pay attention to what is going on in these little minds. This often takes scheduled time in our busy days. Even stay-at-home parents often neglect spending this kind of time. Whenever you have the opportunity to give your children 100% of your attention, do it even if it’s for a half an hour. Done consistently, you will learn so much about your kids that will pay off well into the future.
No matter what ages, your kids have agendas that are just as important to them as yours are to you. You have to get out the door and get your kids to wherever they have to go so you can get to work on time—and your kids have to pick out all the shoes from the shoe bin to see what’s there and then put them on and take them off again, drive a truck to an undisclosed yet extremely important location across the living room, line up the cars and barricade them so as not to be swiped by a sibling, eat breakfast at a pace appropriate to one’s age and hunger level, get the doll that fell behind the crib and lay with it for awhile, and express uncontrollable outrage at the parent, sibling or dog who interferes with any of this.
It is not your job to give up your agenda in order for your child to accomplish his. As a matter of fact, when you do this to avoid a meltdown or feelings of disappointment, you are not only sacrificing your needs in the process but are traveling down the road to entitlement by teaching your children that their needs are more important than yours.
Balance is the key. So when five different agendas are clashing during the morning rush, acknowledging them will save time. The mindset that my agenda is paramount requires all others to climb on board, and if they don’t, it is viewed as defiant and disrespectful. This kind of thinking will get you spinning in endless power struggles and then feeling guilty and inadequate all day long. Not to mention how your reactions fuel your children’s behavior when they perceive they have to fight not only for what they want but also for their sense of rightness.
Acknowledgment means patience and understanding. Simply allowing that your children do and should have their own ideas and ways of doing things without blaming them for lack of consideration will go a long way. If you have a minute, breathe and pay attention to what it is they are trying to accomplish.
“You really wish you could stay here and play with your train set. Why don’t you set up the next 3 train cars and then make it longer as soon as you get home” doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing but it does let your child know that you have seen him and care about what he is up to.
“What is one last thing you need to do before we get coats on and leave the house?” This gives your child a chance to be in control while at the same time doing what you are asking. It’s a win/win.
Choices go a long way in helping rushed, frustrated children feel important to you. Many might say that my grandson gets too many choices and needs to learn to do what he is told. He is a strong willed child who has strong opinions about what he wears, eats, and does. Giving him a consistent structure and routine for his day with room for some personal choices within that framework gives him a sense of personal power that enables him to be amazingly cooperative when necessary.
Times of stress are not times for reasoning or trying to make your child understand your agenda. When the three-year-old has had it with his younger brother destroying the fort he has built with the couch cushions or the cars and trucks he has positioned in a perfect circle, he loses it. Telling him he should know better, that he’s the big brother, to use his words, and realize that his brother doesn’t understand will only fuel his anger. Sitting silently close by waiting for the storm to pass allows for the feelings to empty so that problem solving can be accomplished when rational thought returns.
Giving in or giving up to expedite what must be done in the moment, while necessary at times, will only lead to learned habits that make future cooperation harder and harder. Invest the time up front and you will gain so much for the long haul.