Leggos and CooperationJust got off the phone with private coaching client, where we talked about the different statements parents use to gain cooperation. The conversation was very valuable, so I wanted to share it with all of you! 
If this is valuable to you, please comment and share it with others.

This post centers on younger kids because it’s easier to explain this concept without the potential drama that can occur with older kids. Our example is about putting away toys.

Most parents’ correct behavior with the intention of shutting down a behavior. Don’t get me wrong, that does needs to happen, daily, sigh. There is a way to state things so you have a greater chance of achieving the cooperation you’re looking for.

Where is your child developmentally? 

You know during the ages 18 months to age 7 parents experience the first wave of opposition. There are NO’s!, I’m too tired, or (s)he simply stops cooperating. That’s normal. Developmentally a child is trying to learn, what happens if I do as I’m told, and what happens if I don’t do as I’m told? 

Many parents treat this “research” phase by being punitive, yelling, or using timeout. If you do that you’re creating a pattern in your child’s foundation that you’ll end up having to deal with for years to come.

What do I mean?
Dr. Dan Siegel, neurobiologist, author of several books on the brain and childhood states,
“Where attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connection grows.” 

That means when you [the parent] face lack of cooperation, or a NO!, and you place your focus and attention on yelling, timeouts, and consequences in order to create cooperation, you are quite literally causing your child to build neural pathways in their brain that (s)he will unconsciously follow like an instruction manual for years to come.

How does that happen?

Kids are like a blank slate in the early years, and use immature thinking to understand things. They unconsciously “research” situations so they can understand what happens first, second, and third. Think of building blocks. Much trial and error goes into to learning that you need a stable broad base in order to build a tower. The same can be said about the foundation of a child. What they learn in early childhood is the broad base they use to build the rest of their understanding on. The question is, do you want that broad base to be built on arguing and timeouts or mindful teaching?

An example.

You ask your child to begin picking up the toys. They become distracted and ended up playing instead of cleaning. You come in and remind them. They begin cleaning up again, become distracted, again; you come in to remind them, again. And this time you announce what will happen if they don’t cooperate, “No playground if you don’t pick up the toys.” 

To a parent that’s completely reasonable. But a child sees that sequence of statements differently. They see that sequence as the game plan for how things are supposed to go each and every time.

Child’s view.
First mom asks me to clean up the toys. I start cleaning, then I play with a few toys as I wait for mom to come back and remind me. Then I clean a bit more, and play again, and wait for mom to come in and warn me and tell me what I will lose if I don’t cooperate. 

To a child those are the sequencial steps that are supposed to happen each and every time, because that’s what has happened each and every time. 
Remember what Dr. Siegel stated, “Where attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connection grows.” Mom’s attention is focused on telling me, several times, to clean up and she warns me. This causes my brain to travel down the neural pathway that has been built by those repetitive requests and warnings, and created a connection in my brain that I unconsciously follow each time I’m asked to do something. If a parent doesn’t shift the statements used, this foundational wiring becomes the broad base that all future requests for cooperation are filtered through.

Can that be changed? 
Begin by reviewing HOW you make your request. Do you use informational statements, or commanding statements?

Commanding statements give a child the opportunity to agree or disagree, say yes or no to your request. 
Informational statements acknowledge that this is what’s happening now, and simply acknowledge HOW those who are participating are going about completing the task.

Sample Conversation

Commanding statement: “Stop playing, please. Put the blocks away.”

Informational statement: “It’s clean up time. I see a block over there. I see you’re using your foot to push the block, that’s a new idea!”

Informational statements empower kids to cooperate, invite fun and creativity, allow you to remain connected, and let any lessons that need to be taught play out without warnings. More importantly informational statements send a child information about the steps they can use to repeat this process, so they can succeed next time.

Commanding statements are adversarial by nature. If a child chooses not to do as asked, these statements only give a parent one direction to go—to arguing, yelling, timeouts or removal of prized possessions or screen time.

Shouldn’t I be able to insist that my child do as I ask, or face the consequences if they don’t?

Yes. And just like anything in parenting, you have to make a choice about how you want to get there. Do you want your child to be afraid of being yelled at, threatened, or having a consequence, or would you rather stop the arguing, yelling and power struggles and mindfully teach instead?

Remember, what’s learned during the foundational years, 18-months to age 7 is the foundation your child will rely on for years to come. 
Want more?
Every eBook and seminar we offer at Proactive Parenting dot NET includes sample conversations to help you use mindful teaching statements that inspire and produce cooperation and learning, versus statements that create a need for reminding and threats which results in yelling, arguing and power struggles, timeouts and consequences.

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Now, go hug your kids!
Sharon

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