And since children are inclined to resist these activities, parents tend to dread them. So, in our haste to get the job done, we rush our babies through diaper changes and lunge at their snotty noses. We distract kids in order to slip them their medicine and keep them still when they need shots. We attempt to cut their nails and hair when they aren’t looking, maybe even while they sleep.
Ironically, these tactics end up creating unpleasantness and increasing the resistance we’d hoped to avoid. Our babies learn quickly to run for the hills every time we approach them with a tissue.
But there’s a simple secret that eases the pain of these mundane duties and can even (hard as this may be to believe) transform them into enjoyable times of connection.
The secret for enlisting our children’s cooperation is the same for all aspects of successful parenting: respect. Newborns, infants, toddlers, preschoolers — people of all ages — want to be engaged with, included and invited to participate rather than have things done to them. Who can blame us?
Here are some key ways to offer respect:
1. Make the activity a familiar routine and/or give advance notice
Life can seem overwhelming to young children. The more they know going in, the more likely they’ll view an activity positively and be able to rise to the occasion.
We inform children two ways: 1) by developing predictable daily routines so they know what to expect; and 2) by talking honestly about everything that will happen (at the doctor’s office, for example) ahead of time.
“Predictability is habit forming. Developing habits makes it much easier to live with rules. Because very young children do not understand the reasons behind the rules they are expected to follow, it is better if these rules become simply a matter of course. There are some things we do not need or want to re-examine every time we do them, such as brushing our teeth.” – Magda Gerber, Dear Parent – Caring for Infants With Respect
2. Don’t interrupt
Respect your child’s play and other chosen activities. Don’t interrupt unless absolutely necessary. Oftentimes, we realize that the runny nose or wet diaper can wait until the child is finished, or at least has a bit more time. Again, prepare children: “In a few minutes it will be time to change into your PJ’s, brush teeth and chose a book.”
“If a child has ample opportunity to play independently, without interruption, he is likely to be much more willing to cooperate with the demands of his parent.” – Gerber
3. Communicate with even the youngest infants
Children are whole people from birth and we encourage their participation and partnership in tasks when we speak to them honestly and directly: “I need to wipe your nose with this tissue. Please keep your head still for a moment.”
4. Offer autonomy
Let your child do it or at least try. What’s there to lose? You might be amazed by your baby’s nose wiping talents. Children toddler age and older feel more autonomous when we offer them choices: “Would you like to take your medicine now or after lunch?” “Which fingernail shall we clip first?”
But beware of false choices. It might seem more polite and respectful to ask children, “Can I give you your medicine now?” but only if all options are acceptable to us.
5. Slow everything down
Slow down movements, words and the time in between them. The younger the child, the more time they need to process our words.
“One can further enhance the child’s sense of himself as a decision-maker by allowing enough time to elapse after requesting something, so that the child can decide on his own whether or not to cooperate.” – Gerber
6. Don’t multitask
Children need our undivided attention during these cooperative activities. Pay attention, connect and encourage children to do the same.
If we are approaching the situation respectfully and our children still resist or object, acknowledge their feelings and point-of-view. “You are turning your head away. You don’t want me to dry your nose with the tissue. I’ll wait a little for you to be ready.”
When, despite our respectful attitude, children refuse to cooperate and we must force the (t)issue, it’s even more crucial that we acknowledge their disagreement or anger. “You didn’t like that. It upset you.”
8. Give thanks
Thank children for helping rather than offering empty “good job” praise. Acknowledge accomplishments and progress: “Now you are able to brush your own teeth!”
Chelsea shared how she ended a “spoon fight” with her 10-month-old baby by communicating with him respectfully, slowing down, and offering him autonomy:
“Every time I tried to give our baby pureed food he would reach for the spoon and hold on to it so tight that his knuckles would turn white. I would get so annoyed and would try to peel it from his hands. Feedings were getting more and more stressful. I thought the only solution would be offering more finger foods, but there were times when I needed to give him puréed food.
About a month ago I had my ‘a-ha’ moment and realized I was approaching this all wrong. I asked for the spoon. He didn’t give it to me, but he did eventually drop it. I asked if it was for me. He stared. I reached for it and explained I would put more food on the spoon and give it back.
Over the next few meals we started to master giving the spoon to each other. Now he gives the spoon — no big deal — and not only the spoon, now he likes to give me everything, rocks, toys, whatever!
Mealtime has changed 100%, and I feel like my boy actually enjoys giving to others when he wants to! Thank you for all the time you put into your Facebook page and blog. It has help me as a parent so much.
Here’s a video of our breakfast this morning…”
Thank you for allowing me to share your story, Chelsea!
For more, please read The Secret To Turning A Toddler’s “No!” Into A “Yes!” and What To Say Instead Of “NO!” – Six Ways To Gain Your Child’s Co-operation by Lisa Sunbury, Regarding Baby
And my new book provides the “full picture” of respectful care: Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting
(Photo by Sara Prince from bonzo, chooch, mushy and me)
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