Trying to get our little ones to cooperate is one of the biggest parenting struggles. Everything would have been so great if they just followed through with our wishes, right? The good news is that learning to request in a way that meets our children’s needs is the best outset and it’s right here in front of you.
There is never enough I can say about the human need for autonomy. It is something we have long gone forgotten, yet is vividly living within our children.
People, of all ages, NEED to feel autonomous; they NEED to feel in control of their lives, their actions and their choices. Autonomy is a basic, existential need shared by all human beings, of all ages, all over the world. If you come to think of all the wars raging around and within us, what is it all about if not autonomy and freedom?
This is how deep this need is rooted within us.
Now just imagine how the need for autonomy clashes with the daily life of a toddler, a tween, and even a teen. The endless to do list, all the tasks. Brushing teeth, getting in the car seat, getting dressed, going home, leaving the house, doing homework… Most of these actions are not actions our children choose, as such – they might resist cooperating and following through. And it is no surprise! Surely there are so many things that are much more fun than showering or brushing teeth.
Today’s Toddler is a Future Teen: Updated Expectations
Human beings are programmed to resist control. It’s in our genes and there’s very little we can do to change it. Moreover – this trait should be celebrated rather than suppressed. Resisting control is what keeps our little ones safe from coercion, from following strangers’ orders, from peer pressure. When you think of your now-toddler and the teen you would like him or her to become, you are probably imagining a strong person, who knows what they want, what meets their needs, and what doesn’t. You are probably hoping they would be able to stand up for themselves and what they believe it even when it gets socially and personally challenging.
How I Got My 2 Year Old to Happily Brush His Teeth
So the idea is to put freedom and autonomy back into everything that’s not really free and autonomous, such as all these daily tasks. There was a period, from about 1.5 to 2.5 years old, that my little one naturally followed through with what we asked him to do. We’ve always made sure to keep the connection and maintain a VERY strong attachment from the very first day, with utmost respect to the needs that live within him. But one day, he declared the war on the tooth brush. He wasn’t willing to brush for the life of him! The natural thought, for me, was something like “I don’t want to create a war over it or a wall of resistance, so if you don’t want to brush TODAY – you don’t have to”. However, it repeated the next day, too. And then creativity had to pop in.
The Magic Sentence that Will Get Your Child to Cooperate
I put the toothbrush in front of him and said “no problem sunshine, it’s here for you to brush when you’re ready”. “I’m not ready” he said. And I said “no problem, take your time” and moved on with my morning routine.
He walked around the house for a few more minutes doing absolutely nothing, as if he had to build up that readiness, to live up to the responsibility he was given to make up his own mind. He then came to me and said “I’m ready!” and happily brushed his teeth.
And this was no fluke – as soon as coercion, control, and dominance were no longer part of the game, he was again connected to the deepest of his inner motivations: his attachment and connection to the ones he loves most: Jon and me.
It’s All About the Attachment (and the protection, the freedom, and the autonomy)
The human soul is a collection of needs, the most important ones are the needs for protection, freedom, autonomy and connection.
If we come to think about it, protection, freedom and autonomy have to do with us only, others can help us meet those needs (or prevent us from having these needs met) but in and off themselves these needs have to do with us. Connection, on the other hand, requires the presence of others.
Connection and attachment are mega needs that are the core to everything we do, everything that we feel. As such, these needs are the strongest motivators to action, as being well attached and connected, we want to make our subjects of attachment HAPPY – meeting their needs, answering their requests, MEETS OUR OWN NEEDS. And this is the most important key to healthy and beneficial relationships.
Will this Magic Sentence Immediately “Work”?
The answer to this question depends of the state of attachment between your child and you. It also depends on how celebrated her autonomy is in her daily life. Autonomous children will probably be affected right there and then. Children who don’t feel autonomous might not even believe the power given to them and thus a change will not come on the spot. However, with time, as more and more freedom of choice is given, the sense of autonomy will grow and the walls of resistance will crumble.
Words of Encouragement
We are taught to believe that if we want to change something, we need to actively DO something to change it. It might be the case in some places, but when it comes to relationships, and specially with children, actively trying to lead to a change is an act of resistance to what is currently there. Resistance is never a positive solution.
Acceptance is the key. As soon as we learn to accept, as soon as we embrace what is there, we are able to learn more about it, about its motivations, about the power of life that leads it.
When this knowledge comes – things just change. Peacefully.
Do you want to learn more on how to celebrate your child’s autonomy, and help bring compassion, empathy and cooperation back home?
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