6 Ways to Get Your Child to Cooperate

Frustrated when your child just doesn't want to cooperate? Mighty Mommy has six surefire tips that will have your stubborn cherub cooperating in no time.

Cheryl Butler
7-minute read
Episode #349

This past weekend, my family and I attended a “Fall Fest” in our community that included all kinds of fun activities for kids.  There was face painting, pony rides, build-your-own scarecrows, yummy treats such as caramel apples and kettle corn, and even a pumpkin painting contest.

While there were lots of delightful giggles coming from all directions there were also plenty of other emotions swirling throughout the festival—and one of those was the desperate plea from several parents of young kids who were trying furiously to get their tots to cooperate. “If someone could just give me the secret to getting Katie to cooperate, maybe we could enjoy these outings a lot more,” pleaded one mom who was there with her three kids.

I know that feeling well—you have a nice event planned for your family yet if the stars and moon aren’t aligned perfectly, sometimes the best plans go haywire when your kids won't cooperate. Mighty Mommy has six tips for just these situations:

Tip #1: Connect on Their Level

When I returned to the workforce after staying home with my kids for nearly 15 years, I was really nervous about what it was going to be like to work for a boss. I have a very laid-back personality so I was anxious that I might end up working for someone who was my total opposite. I was put at ease immediately because he took the time to get to know my work style and whenever a conflict arises, he presents it in a very non-confrontational manner so that I don’t feel intimidated and can come up with solutions. Kids are no different—if we literally get down on their level, even if that means sitting on the floor with your toddler and making eye contact while he’s playing with a stack of blocks, you’re sending him the message that you want to relate in a way that makes sense to them. This is particularly helpful when children are upset, because the physical gesture shows you are talking with them, as opposed to talking down to them.

Connecting at your child’s appropriate age level also means explaining your request in easy-to-follow language that he/she can relate to.  For instance, if you’re having a challenge with cooperation getting ready for school because your child is too distracted with a TV program or playing with toys—spell it out clearly so she knows what your expectations are. “First we are going to eat our cereal, and then we are going to brush our teeth.” If your child asks “Why?” or says, “But I don’t want to,” it helps to give reasons that resonate with them. “We need to eat a healthy breakfast to keep our bodies full of energy for the day and we need to brush our teeth so that we keep them nice and strong to help us eat our yummy meals when we’re hungry." See Also:  7 Wimple Ways to Get Your Kids to Listen

Tip #2: Make the Situation Fun

Sometimes your child won’t cooperate because he doesn’t want to stop doing what he loves to do best: playing. If you can keep your wits about you and make the request into something fun and playful, you have a far better chance of getting them to cooperate sooner rather than later. 

One of my sons used to hate to leave nursery school each day. He would see me walk in the door and would run the other way. (Luckily, I didn’t take it personally!) He was having so much fun playing with his friends and doing their circle time activities that he just didn’t want the morning to end. So, I would make up a game to entice him into leaving. “Brendan, guess what we’re going to do when we get in the car? We are going to be pirates and look for clues to find the buried treasure that is hiding somewhere in our house!” Now, this took a little bit of coaxing, but soon after, he’d come to me when I picked him up asking what our car was going to be that day—a fire engine, a cruise ship, a train? 

The other game I played (and still play) with my kids was called “Remote Control.” When we want to change channels on our TV or lower or raise the volume, we grab our remotes, right? Well, when I needed my kids to change gears and get ready for dinner or put their clothes away and they weren’t paying attention I would take the remote or a pretend one, point it their direction and say something silly like, “Pardon me but I need to interrupt your life at this moment and have you head on into your bedroom and put your clothes away before bedtime.” Then I would make some funny noises like I was truly changing the channels and walk away so they’d know it was up to them to follow the request. They loved this and now that they’re older, I still do it when someone isn’t wanting to do homework.  See Also:  5 Ways to Boost Your Family's Fun Quotient

Tip #3: Offer Choices

Offering your child choices is one of the oldest tricks in the parenting book, yet we can easily overlook this simple strategy because we want an instant result when he/she is acting out and not following our instructions. We then get frustrated and end up with a power struggle and negativity and crankiness wins out from there.

For example, at the Fall Fest we just attended, a little girl was giving her mother grief about not wanting to participate in the pumpkin painting. She had her heart set on getting her face painted, not painting a pumpkin. The girl’s mother tried to sell that pumpkin painting with everything she had and then began to bargain with her that if she stayed and painted one, then she could have some cotton candy and apple cider. She would’ve been more apt to give pumpkin painting a whirl if she had the choice to do so. “Abby, would you like to do the face painting or pumpkin painting first?” Too many options, however, can become confusing. “Shall we do the corn maze, get a snack, watch your brother build a scarecrow, pick a pumpkin, bob for apples, or paint a pumpkin before Aunt Katie and your cousins get here?” Even if your child refuses either of your choices, you can still enforce your request with a similar response.  “Abby, I know you’d like to go home and play with your dolls and we will be able to go pretty soon, so we can do the face painting or the corn maze before we leave; which one would you like to do?” This allows the child to feel some sense of control even though she didn’t get to leave when she wanted to, and if you offer the choice calmly and don’t bark out a reply as though it is an order you’ll be teaching her how to make decisions on her own as well as how to keep her emotions in check. See Also:  Become a Better Listener with Your Children


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.