Does trying to get your kids to comply with simple requests result in power struggles and tantrums? These playful strategies will help get your child to cooperate and make parenting much more fun.
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It’s four o’clock in the afternoon. You’ve already been on mom duty for ten hours, many of which have been spent putting out fire after emotional fire, and bouncing around like a ping-pong ball trying to remember who’s had lunch, when the three-year-old last went to the bathroom, and trying to remember what you were doing two seconds ago before you got interrupted for the 526th time.
You’re exhausted…and your kids are, too. You’ve tried to make it a good day…you spent quality time together, and you even squeezed in a little productivity and crossed a couple of items off of your to do list. But all that “doing” has taken its toll. You’re counting down four more hours until bedtime, but you’re running out of steam.
If you’re anything like me, this is the time of day when “monster mom” is most likely to rear her ugly head. It starts with an innocuous request, like this:
“Hey, buddy, grab your gear, and let’s get in the car. It’s time for practice.”
“But, Mom, I just want to finish this really quick.”
Okay, you think. Be patient. Empathize. Reason with him.
“Sweetheart, I know you want to finish, but if we don’t leave right now, we’re going to be late.”
“Just a second. I’m almost done.”
Now he’s just stalling. He’ll go on this way for hours if I don’t stop him. So you put your foot down.
“No. Put the toys down now, and get in the car.”
And the power struggle ensues.
“Just a minute! I just have to do this one thing.”
“Stop now, or I’m going to take it away and you won’t see it for the rest of the week.”
“You’re so mean! I never get to just play when I want to! Why do I even have to GO to stupid practice?!”
Never mind that he was the one who begged you to let him be on the team, or the fact that he’s been playing for the past hour with no interference from you asking him to help with chores or do homework. In this moment, he’s beyond reason, and you’ve both lost the battle. Everyone stomps to the car feeling awful.
This is NOT the way we want our family lives to be. We want peace and harmony, fun and laughter, learning and cooperation.
Sometimes, though, getting kids to cooperate is so hard! They push our buttons at the end of a long day, and instead of handling it calmly, monster mom comes out and everyone ends up miserable.
We want to have fun with our families, but we also have schedules to keep, houses to maintain, and jobs to do. Finding the balance between it all is HARD.
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em…finding the fun in daily tasks
The best strategy I’ve found to get kids to cooperate is to appeal to their desire to PLAY!
As Mary Poppins said, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and–SNAP!–the job’s a game!”
Sometimes we think work and play are separate activities, but when we realize they can coexist, we unleash a powerful parenting tool.
This philosophy is the core concept of a book I recently read entitled, Parenting: Let’s Make a Game of It by Karen Thurm Safran.
The book is full of creative strategies that solve daily parenting problems, and I loved the author’s let’s-be-real style of writing. She doesn’t paint herself or her kids as perfect people, but she encourages parents to tap into their innate creativity and work with their kids to make life more enjoyable–even while doing all the stuff that doesn’t seem fun at first glance.
It’s so easy to default to nagging and threats to get kids to comply, but I have SOO much more success when I keep things positive and force myself to get creative with my kids.
Why can’t I just expect my kids to obey?
Well, you can sure try. The problem is that kids have different agendas than adults, and they just don’t usually care very much about the things that are important to most of us…clean house, schedules, a little peace and quiet. My three boys are more concerned with playing…all day…preferably outside.
When we try to force our children into submission, we often create power struggles that usually end poorly for everyone involved. Instead, when we look for our common ground–the space where our needs overlap with our children’s desires–we can often get them to cooperate without resorting to nagging or threats.
Now, that’s not to say that I can’t teach my children to recognize that part of being in a family (and a human in general) means considering other people’s needs. However, they are young, and it’s developmentally normal for them to be pretty self-centered. Learning empathy and gaining an understanding of “the greater good” is a years-long process. So, I need some strategies to use in the meantime.
With Karen’s permission, today I’m sharing with you a few of my favorite strategies from her book (and a few of my own). Here they are…
5 playful ways to get kids to cooperate
Parenting Problem #1: “I don’t want to clean up!”
…said every child, every day, since the beginning of time. The house looks like a tornado just went through it, but that doesn’t seem to bother the kids one bit. You, on the other hand, are starting to feel like the walls are closing in, and if you accidentally step on one more Lego, you might just lose it completely. So how do you get the kids to help clean up?
“Monster Mom” says: “Alright, everybody. I’m sick and tired of this mess. You better clean all this stuff up right now, or I am throwing away all your toys!”
“Find the Fun” solution: Rather than stopping play time, just change the game to one that suits your needs. Turn on some music and challenge your kids to clean up a certain area/activity before the song ends. Work with them, using your energy and excitement to create a sense of urgency. My boys especially like it when we make up secret code names, like I explained in this post: Save the world and get kids to clean: a win-win scenario.
Other ideas to make cleaning up fun:
- play basketball to toss blocks into their box.
- have a bag be a monster that likes to “eat” the toys the kids put inside
- race to see who can get the most handfuls of Legos in the box
- sort it out…put all the blue blocks in the box, then red, etc.
Parenting Problem #2: “I’m too tired to walk”
Kids have this magical ability to run around a playground almost endlessly, but as soon as you point them in a single direction and give them a destination, all their energy disappears. Whether it’s walking to an airport gate, around the zoo, or hiking on a trail, it can be hard to keep kids motivated.
“Monster Mom” says: Stop whining and complaining. Just put one foot in front of the other. You’re gonna have to buck up and deal with it, because there is NO way I’m carrying you.
“Find the Fun” solution: Karen tells about a time when she and her two kids needed to walk all the way to the end of the terminal. In an effort to keep them from complaining the entire way (which they were starting to do), she started a game called, “Where do you want to go?” As they walked past each gate, they looked at the destination and each declared whether they wanted to go to that place. Sure enough, this kept her kids occupied and they made it to their gate without further complaints.
I’ve run into this same problem when I take my kids hiking…something I LOVE to do but is much less enjoyable when the kids are whining and asking every thirty seconds, “When can we be doooone?” Playing games as we walk makes it much more fun for everyone. Read about the specific games we play in this post.
Parenting Problem #3: “Do we have to go to a dumb museum?”
You’re on vacation in amazing city and you want to visit a famous museum there but your kids complain that it will be “SOOO boring!”
“Monster Mom” says: “You WILL go to this museum with me and you will not complain. I brought you all the way here, and we’re taking you to all these fun places and doing things YOU want to do. All I’m asking is for you to let me do ONE thing I want to do. ARGH! You are such selfish little brats!”
“Find the Fun” solution: Next time you’re going to a museum, turn the trip into a game! Try doing a scavenger hunt through the museum, like this alphabet scavenger hunt or this rainbow color scavenger hunt. In the book, Karen tells the story of taking her kids to an art museum in Washington D.C. and encouraging her kids to pose like the characters in the paintings and taking pictures (without flash, of course). What a great way to keep the kids occupied, and capture some great snapshot memories of the trip!
Parenting Problem #4: “How long do we have to wait?”
Your kids are ravenous, and you walk into the a local fast food restaurant, only to find that there is a long line. As soon as they see the line, the whining begins…”This is gonna take forever! I’m starving!” How will you keep the hangry monsters under control?
“Monster Mom” says: “Stop whining right now. I can’t make the line move faster. Everyone has to take their turn. So either you wait without complaining, or you don’t get to eat at all.”
“Find the Fun” solution: Play a guessing game to see who can guess how long it will be until you get to the front of the line. Here’s the kicker: don’t just let the kids guess randomly…make it a learning opportunity. In her book, Karen tells about a time when she and her kids had to wait in line for the bathroom. She encouraged her kids to make an educated guess using basic math and estimating skills! They counted the number of stalls, then the number of people in line, and estimated how long they thought the average person would take. Brilliant!
Younger kids might have a hard time doing the math involved in this game, but there are lots of other waiting games. We love playing I-spy, Simon Says, What’s missing?, etc. Truly, time (and waiting) flies when you’re having fun!
Parenting Problem #5: “This is BORING!”
You’re in the middle of church, and the idea of being reverent is completely lost on your children. They are restless, and in the silence after a song ends, your child (who has no concept of what it means to whisper) tugs on your arm and says loud and clear, “Is it almost over?” You want to melt into the floor.
*Note: this could apply in a lot of situations outside church, such as when attending older siblings award ceremonies or performances, waiting at the doctor’s office, etc.
“Monster Mom” says: “SHHHH! That is so rude. Sit still and be quiet or there will be consequences!”
“Find the Fun” solution: Play the “alphabet search” game! Give your child any kind of text to search through. If you’re in church, it could be the Bible. If you’re at a performance, it could be the program. At a doctor’s office, it could be a magazine. Then, have your child search through the text and see if they can find a word that starts with each letter of the alphabet. Even preschoolers can do this one! If you have a piece of scratch paper and pen handy, write out the letters on a piece of paper and have your child write the words they find.
Want to make it take longer? Tell older kids that they have to start with A and go all the way to Z without skipping any letters or going out of order.
The truth is that parenting is exhausting. There’s no way around that. But you do have a choice about what exhausts you.
You can either be exhausted by nagging and threatening and enforcing all day long, or you can be exhausted from being playful and creative with your kids–problem-solving unique ways to get your kids’ priorities to align more with your own needs.
I’m far from perfect at this, but I see a huge difference in the mood in our house and the quality of my relationship with my kids when I put in the effort to think outside the “because I said so” box.
Want to learn more creative and playful ways to stop struggling with your children and start having more fun?
You can get the Parenting: Let’s Make a Game of It eBook for only $4.99. I love the convenience of reading on my Kindle app on my phone (and I like that eBooks tend to be cheaper).
If you prefer a physical copy, the paperback is on sale for $8.99.
Now it’s your turn…How do you use games and play in your parenting? Share your ideas in the comments below. Let’s help each other out!