When teaching cooperation, the first thing to consider is whether your expectations are developmentally appropriate. Taking a 2 year old into a clothing store while you shop after they’ve been in their stroller for 40 minutes, and expecting them to continue to stay in the stroller, is not developmentally appropriate or reasonable. Here are some suggestions I make for parents who are trying to teach their children to be cooperative:
#1-Inside Voices-When a child is being loud in a place where you’d rather they use a quieter voice, make it a game. Ask them “Can you say that in a whisper?” “Can you say that like an animal might?” Before you take your child to quieter places play a Quiet-Loud game. Say a word loudly and say it quietly. (You can also do this with instruments.) Practice a whisper, an outside voice, and an inside voice. Remind them of these different voices before you go in to a restaurant or library.
#2- Sharing– This could truly be a post of its own but consider this…If a friend came to your house and wanted to borrow a cup of sugar and your best china, you probably wouldn’t think twice about the sugar and might feel some anxiety about the china. This is not dissimilar from how young children feel about their possessions. When your child has a play date, have them put away 3-5 toys that they do not have to or want to share, and 3-5 that they want to play with their friend. Stick with them during the play date and help support your child. Reassure them that you will make sure that everyone has a turn. Next time they’ll find “sharing” easier.
#3-Grocery Shopping– Rather than saying “no” every time they point to, or pick up, an item, play “I Spy” or give them part of the list. Children have brand recognition from a very young age. “Can you point to the Cheerios?” “Where do you see the carrots?” “Can you find the cookies with the pink wrapper?” Older children can help cut the packaging from empty containers or ads to make their own shopping list. This idea works at home too. Toddlers, in particular, love to help! They can find matching socks while you do laundry and sort mixed up toys into containers.
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