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Nov 18, 2021

Children (especially toddlers) will always do what they want. And they won’t do what they don’t want to do.

This can be incredibly frustrating and often leads to parents trying to force them to do something which then creates a power struggle which turns into a tantrum, yelling (parents and toddlers) and a bad morning all round. If you’re reading this as a parent, I’m sure you’ll know what a morning looks like when your toddler does not want to get dressed or is not remotely interested in packing away their toys and you’re on a timeframe to get out the door. It can quickly spiral into a full blown battle where getting dressed will be the absolutely last thing your toddler wants to do.

So how do we get our children to want to do more of what we want them to do?

Well, you will always get more compliance from a child that feels like they have a choice and is spoken to with kindness and positivity. Rather than demanding your child do something, try inviting them to do it.

Offering an invitation instead of barking orders or shouting demands is a quick way to increase compliance.

Just like we as adults don’t like to be told what to do, the same is true for our children who also have a need to exercise their autonomy and feel a sense of control.

I get what you might be thinking.

“I’m the adult, they’re the kid and they should do as they’re told because I told them to”.

Whilst it is true that as the adult you get to set the rules, this kind of dialogue is a quick way to enter into power struggles and will create more intense and more frequent battles.

When we demand certain actions from our children or try to force them to do something they don’t want to, we will start a battle that then shuts down their ‘rational’ brain and activates the survival brain which sends children into ‘fight, flight or freeze’. Since most children don’t have the option to take flight they will usually fight (power struggle) or just tune out and ignore you completely.

Either way it isn’t helping you on your quest for co-operation.

Here are the 3 things you need to do to increase co-operation:

1. Invite Co-operation. Avoid demanding. The more we demand behaviour from a child, the less likely they are going to be able to problem solve for themselves and be intrinsically motivated to do what you want them to do (remember they will always do what they want to do so we want to increase their motivation to do what we want).

Instead of “you have to get dressed now if you want to go to the park”

You could try
“we’re going to the park this morning would you like to get dressed before or after breakfast” or “I’m so excited to play on the park with you, the sooner we’re dressed the sooner we can go”.

Can you see how that totally transforms the tone, offers them some choice and control and is more likely to motivate them to co-operate?

2. Turn it into a game. Ah what better way to get co-operation than through play. Toddlers love to play, the sillier the better.

If your child struggles to leave the park when it’s time to go you could try turning the journey back to the car a game of chase or hide and seek, hiding behind the trees on the way.

This avoids marching your kicking, screaming child in a surfboard hold and then trying to wrangle them into a car seat only for them to scream the whole way home and make you feel reluctant to ever take them to the park again.

3. Make co-operation observations. This is super simple to do but also super effective and involves focusing on the behaviour you want to see. If you know getting dressed in the morning is often a battle, then praise your child each step of the process. “Wow, thank you for putting on your top so quickly. The quicker we get dressed the more time we will have to play together”. The more often we make these observations the more likely they will want to co-operate.

Where to from here?

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I’m Sarah, principal therapist of Secure Foundations; a unique sleep support service based on trauma informed and attachment-focused parenting. My speciality is working with those who are caring for children with a trauma history or attachment disorders, however we welcome the connection with all family journeys.

Secure Foundations was born out of years of study, work and an enduring passion for raising stable, resilient children and their healthy emotional development. We are big believers that each family is entirely unique, and all our recommendations are individualised and completely tailored to meet the goals of your family.