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Child Won’t Cooperate? 7 Ways to Gain More Cooperation From Your Kids

Do you find yourself constantly reminding, nagging, perhaps even pleading or threatening to get your child to listen, start, stop, or finish a simple task or routine behavior?

How’s that working for you? Chances are, not very well. Too many demands, commands, threats, or pleas do little to encourage cooperation in our children.

Instead, often quite the opposite results. Suddenly, you’re at DEFCON 1 all over a simple request for your child to brush his teeth. Frustrating for everyone, indeed!

More importantly, too many commands, demands, threats, and pleas do not develop any durable critical thinking skills within your child to become more responsible and prevent future problem situations from popping up again.

Like Bill Murray stuck perpetually reliving the same day in one of the best movies ever – Groundhog Day if you keep doing the same old stuff, you will keep getting the same old results.

The good news is that small tweaks in your language can have a big impact on gaining cooperation with your child.


Child Won’t Cooperate? Here Are 7 Ways to Gain More Cooperation from Your Kids:

1. Begin with a Name

Use your child’s name at the beginning of the prompt or direction to engage his/her attention: Charlie, time to start your homework.”

Human brains love to hear their names! According to brain scans, the sound of our name alerts our neurons to take notice.


2. State the Expectation First, the Payoff Second

“Charlie, as soon as you finish your homework, you can play on your iPad.” Another effective variation is “First____, then______”

This provides a positive clear path with a desirable payoff for effort and persistence. What’s less effective? A negative statement, such as “No iPad until you finish your homework.” Or, a threat, “You need to finish your homework or no iPad.”

Both are demotivating and have been proven to elicit more resistance. For the strong-willed child, threats may trigger an invitation to challenge – in other words, the “en garde” to a power struggle.


3. Less Is More: One Word

A one-word prompt can often do the trick, especially for kids with weak auditory attention and/or working memory. “Charlie, homework, please.” Keep multistep directions down to 2-3 words. For example: Get ready for bed can be shortened to “ PJs, Book.”


4. What to Do Versus What Not to Do

A very common parenting pitfall response to misbehavior is telling a child to “Stop” doing whatever it is they are doing. “Stop jumping on the furniture!” “Stop, poking at your sister!” “Stop leaving your dirty clothes on the floor!” “Stop, yelling!”

A more effective way to set limits on misbehavior and redirect your child to the cooperative replacement behavior is to instruct them on what is the expected behavior. Here are some examples:

  • “Feet on the floor, please.”
  • “Hands to yourself.”
  • “Dirty clothes belong in the hamper.”
  • “I listen to calm voices.” or “As soon as your voice is as calm as mine, I will listen to you.”


5. Give Power

Give your child some power and responsibility in the areas that cause the most power struggles. (I know what you’re thinking – “what?!?”) Give power by providing choices, such as when, how, or where he can do the task.

“Charlie, would you like a snack before or with your homework?” “Charlie, would you like a snack before or with your homework?”


6. Chunk It into Parts

Alternate between five minutes of the “must-do” task, 5 minutes of “want-to’s.” Especially effective for more time-demanding activities, like homework or chores.

Got even more get-started resistance? Begin with a Tiny Target to Get Started: a very short, super easy task that your child can do quickly.

For example, directing your child to simply look at his homework assignments or laying out her math worksheet or only doing the first practice problem or watching you do the first problem. Frequently, once your child begins with a jump over a very low bar, momentum and the promise of quick breaks will likely keep your child moving forward.


7. Fun Factor

Want to engage your child’s attention and buy-in to “must-do” tasks? Incorporate more playfulness and fun. Children’s language is play.

When humans, especially kids are experiencing pleasurable emotions such as joy, humor, and love, our minds are more flexible and open to enduring non-preferred tasks and trying new things.

Inserting more fun takes some experimenting depending on the age and personality of your child. Here are a few suggestions to keep it novel:

  • Play music while doing chores.
  • Chew gum during homework.
  • Challenge your child to “Beat the Clock” and complete a task before the timer runs out.
  • Toss a ball while quizzing your child on spelling words or vocabulary definitions.

Click here to read more articles by Mary B. Moore, LCSW!

Mary B. Moore, LCSW
Mary B. Moore, LCSW Mary B.’s passion is connecting with parents and children in meaningful ways and helping them to develop skills so that they may be their best and flourish. Her specialties are parenting, childhood anxiety, social-emotional skill development, Asperger’s, grief/loss, collecting Boba Fett memorabilia, and creating clever catch phrases, like “Connect Before you Direct” “Pause. Rewind. DoOver,” and “Involve to Solve” to help parents. Mary B. is the creator of The Purposeful Parenting™ Program at Southeast Psych; Co-founder of The Epiphany School of Charlotte, and author of The Friends and Feelings™ social-emotional learning curriculum. Besides Star Wars, Mary B. loves playing games, Legos, Nerf gun battles, and watching action movies with her 3 fun energetic boys and patient husband.


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