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Ask Elizabeth - “I’ll Race You!” Fun Ways to Engage Cooperation

Do you have a child who won’t cooperate with your requests? Do you repeat yourself so often that you sometimes feel invisible? Don’t get frustrated! Don’t yell, beg or threaten! Instead, try one of these fun and effective approaches.

Engage the imagination. A great way to gain willing cooperation is to take advantage of your child’s natural and vivid imagination. It’s an easy way to thwart resistance and negative emotions. You might pretend to find a trail of caterpillars on the way to the store, hop to the car like a bunny or pretend a carrot gives you magic powers as you eat it. Medicine can turn into magic power solution, a toothbrush can have a voice and locate every speck of food on the teeth as it does its work or the toys can come alive and make a parade into the toy box.

Children love to pretend and by entering their world and playing along, you can prevent many daily skirmishes over everyday chores. Once you open your mind to the possibilities, you’ll see that almost any event can be sweetened with a little fun imagination.

Sing a song. Even if you can’t carry a tune, putting anything to music makes it easier to listen to, and fun too. You can wash your child up to, “This is the way we wash our hands, wash our hands…” One mom of five that I know discovered a great way to keep her children content during car rides. She loves to sing, so she makes up opera tunes about the scenes they see as she drives along the road. Her kids often chime in with their own versions.

You can sing whenever the spirit moves you. You can sing songs that you know just to liven up the moment or you can create a particular song to be used as a cue to certain tasks such as a clean-up song that takes place whenever the toys are picked up and put away.

Another beauty of putting your words to music is that both you and your child will end up feeling much happier.

Tell a story. Children love stories. These will hold their attention and can get them to willingly cooperate. Stories can be used to teach a lesson, ward off boredom or keep a child focused on the task at hand.

Stories can be told in advance of any event to let your child know what’s about to happen and ward off fussing when the actual event occurs.

You can tell a little tale about a boy who goes to Grandma’s house for dinner - how he says ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and the Grandparents are so proud of him. This is in preparation for an actual visit, of course!

You can tell a story about a puppy who goes to the doctor for a check-up, a Tyrannosaurus Rex who visits the dentist or a penguin’s first day at daycare. You can use the story format to teach important lessons about sharing, being kind, being patient or any other life skill you are trying to teach your child.

Stories can also be used to keep your child still and mentally occupied, such as when you are dressing him, waiting in a long line at the post office or putting him to bed at night. A story-telling routine can be a handy tool in all of these cases. If you have a talkative, imaginative child, invite him to tell his own stories too!

Be silly. Experts say that children laugh about 300 times a day, but we serious adults laugh less than 15 times a day. Not only does laughter reduce stress, lower blood pressure and boost your immune system, it makes you feel happy, encourages your child to cooperate with you and ends fussy moods.

Children don’t require a scripted comedy show for entertainment. Any lighthearted banter will do the job. Physical humor - like pretending to fall, exaggerated speech or funny accents - can often create a joyful moment. Being silly - like putting your child’s sock on his hand instead of his foot - often elicits a laugh, along with the desired cooperation.

The added bonus to acting silly for your child’s benefit is that it will lighten your spirits as well. You’ll both have a happier day!

Elizabeth is a mother of four, and author of the bestselling  No-Cry Solution series, on topics such as sleep, discipline, picky eating and potty training. She is known worldwide as the voice of practical, respectful parenting. Visit her blog at


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