Why can't my preschooler just cooperate with me?

Q: My preschool daughter seems to resist cooperating with me so much of the time. I remember you saying some kids are more sensitive to having to go along with someone else's agenda than others. What is my best response to this when I recognize it happening? Do I say more to her about my loving reasons for the agenda of getting out the door on time? Do I try to enlist her to share the agenda ... or what?

A: Yes, some kids truly do seem to need more autonomy than others, and they often have a keenly developed nose for sniffing out agendas and resisting them. In fact, it's not just kids! Plenty of adults hate being told what to do, too.

The high-autonomy types typically resist much less when they've had a chance to hear WHY you want them to comply, and are invited to share their own agenda and why it may inhibit their cooperation with yours. With both parties' concerns on the table, we can generate some options together.

So she might need to hear WHY you want to show up on time to school. ie: I have to meet a client at my office at eight. I feel like a more responsible parent when I have you there on time, etc. If you are not exactly sure why, then it's worth taking the time to investigate your own motives before pushing ahead.

And she might need to tell you WHY putting her shoes on or combing her hair right this minute doesn't work for her. You may be surprised to hear that she actually has some reasons that makes sense.

You are not asking for her approval of your reasons, or giving your approval of hers. It's very valuable just to make them transparent so you can understand each other's perspective. If together you can come up with a Plan B that meets your needs as well as hers, then it's fine to go with that!

(This process is explained quite well in the book The Explosive Child by Dr. Ross Greene. )

It's probably a waste of time to try to convince her to accept the validity of your agenda without being willing to listen to her concerns first. She needs a chance to communicate, respectfully of course, and an opportunity to contribute -- to have some say in what she does.

She sounds like a smart kid, and you'll probably appreciate her need for understanding before she takes action when she's a teenager - it might keep her out of trouble! Plus, laying the groundwork of respectful collaboration rather than blind obedience in her relationship with you will set a high standard for her future relationships.

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