3 ways to get a child to cooperate

Feeling defeated by a week of school reluctance, I wanted to expand my toolkit to manage these situations. So I picked up a book “How to talk so little kids will listen” and applied some ideas from there. I wanted to get my son moving without losing my cool or feeling defeated.

The first chapter teaches how to handle emotions. The second address how to engage cooperation. There were a number of tools described in the second chapter. As I reflected on what I did over the weekend that was effective, I realised it can be categorised under these two: (1) Be playful and (2) Offer a choice.

Here are the 3 things I tried:

#1 Give power while still retaining power

My son received a birthday present comprising of a train track and a battery operated train. He had so much fun with it until he did not want to leave the house even if it was to play. We offered him a choice of going to Marina Bay Sands or stay at home, he chose to stay at home. But that wasn’t what we had planned. Seeing that this was going to escalate into a power struggle, I offered him “Do you want to bring the train track to MBS, or this other (insignificant) toy to MBS?”. He chose the train track and we left.

This is a very useful tool to use. Identify what is non-negotiable, keep it as the constant in the choice that you are offering (in this case – Go to MBS), introduce a variable that offers him some power (in this case, a choice between toy A or toy B).

#2 Counter fun with more fun

When we arrived at MBS, he wanted us to bring the entire box out of the car along with us! So I said, we can’t bring the train, but I can BE THE TRAIN! I invited him to press a random spot on my chest while I was carrying him and see what would happen. He excitedly pressed and I bounced along making a choo choo sound while secretly locking my car remotely as we walked further away.

Of course, it would get tiring after a while, so I told him, I’m out of battery and told him to place his hand on another part of my chest to charge me up. After a while he forgot what was originally wanted. He had associated the train with fun, but if we can lure him with greater fun, he’d be willing to forgo the lesser fun.

Later at Futureworld, he wanted to run about play with all the interactive exhibits on his own. I picked my battles. At moments, when I really needed him to comply, I exaggerated and appeared like I was having more fun.

When it was time to leave MBS, he made a fuss again, I just needed to be the train again. Needless to say, the walk to the car was exciting for him.

#3 Give voice to toys

At one point, my son had soiled his diaper and refused to go to the toilet to get it cleared. Noticing that he was playing with some of his favourite animation (Super Wings) characters, I took one of them and whispered to it, then got it to whisper back at me, then I said “Donnie says he wants to check your diapers. Yucks, it’s so smelly, it’s time to call in a Super Wings Team!” (Calling in the Super Wings Team is the problem resolution part of the show). Immediately, I saw the glow in his eyes and he scooted off to the toilet.


In our moment of desperation and pent up frustration, sometimes we just lose sight of the tools that we can use. Only when we choose to pause, maintain our cool and consider our range of tools, we start to feel in control again.

Taking a step back, the 2 tools suggested by the book, seem to converge on 1 thing -connection – which reminds me of my previous post about connecting before correcting. Once the connection is made, influencing action becomes much easier. However, getting a connection is highly dependant on our ability to enter our child’s world and usher him to where we want him to go. These tools offer us quick ideas on how to establish that connection.

Happy connecting!

Cover Image by photosforyou from Pixabay

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