Getting kids to cooperate through fun and play
How do I get a child to listen without yelling or nagging? How do I invite cooperation through fun and play?
One Positive Discipline tool that makes a big difference in my days as a nanny is keeping a sense of humor. Working with children is inherently funny, so lean in! At Sproutable we are always encouraging caregivers to find the fun, because kids learn through play and connection. I’m someone who loves concrete examples, so what does finding the fun really look like, especially in those challenging moments?
Below are some of the ways I like to find the fun with children I’ve cared for.
3, 2, 1, Go!
Do you need to get out the door? Make it a race! I’ve found that preschoolers can’t help but run if they know you’re racing. When I need a young child to use the restroom before leaving the house, I’ll “race them” to the bathroom, act dramatically disappointed and surprised that they beat me, and I can happily go put my shoes on while they use the restroom!
Many children don’t enjoy stopping their play to wash their hands. I get it, but especially in COVID times, it really is important to wash hands when returning home from being out and before eating. I’ve had really good luck motivating children to wash their hands by doing silly voices for the germs on their hands. I use my squeakiest voice and plead for the child not to wash, not to use warm water, and not to make so many bubbles! They crack up and scrub their hands so well. End with a quieter and quieter voice as those disappointed germs get washed down the drain. Bye, germs!
One of my favorite examples of finding the fun came from Sproutable’s wonderful Julietta Skoog. Applying sunscreen to a wiggly toddler or preschool is about as fun as wrestling an alligator, so I was thrilled to learn about this game-changer. Ask the child what animal they’d like to be, and describe the animal’s looks and body parts as you rub on the sunscreen. If a child wants to be a tiger, I’m describing in detail the stripes and whiskers while I do their face, their strong, muscular arms, and big, fast legs while I rub that sunscreen in! It’s like invisible face paint- they love it!
Moving quickly doesn’t lend itself to every task, but there are many parts of the day that you can do on cheetah time! Maybe you’re gathering laundry from different laundry baskets or putting toys away. Putting yourself and your nanny charges on cheetah time means everyone is moving quickly! This can be funny and effective. If your nanny charges don’t care for cheetah time, sometimes it works to time them. I’ve worked with children who love being timed.
“Let’s see if we can get downstairs and to the car by the time we count to thirty!” This adds a little math and a little speed to the day.
“Can you beat your time the next day?”
Elephant Stomps & Other Animals
Cheetahs aren’t the only animals we’re pretending to be. I also ask my nanny kiddos to be elephants and stomp the mud off of their feet before getting in the car after the playground. Sometimes we’re quiet mice if a parent is working from home, or maybe we’re jumping kangaroos just because we need to burn off a little energy! Children love pretending, so embrace it and be animals. Combining pretend play, large motor, and the actual task that needs to be done is a win in my book.
Never underestimate the power of music and songs. This works so well with children. Young children aren’t too picky or critical and don’t seem to mind when you’re out of key and offbeat like I often am! Between YouTube, Spotify, Alexa, and making up your own songs, you can add music to any part of the day. Here’s a few of my favorites:
Crossing the Street
“Stop, look, and listen before you cross the street.
Use your eyes and use your ears before you use your feet.
Look to your left, then look to your right, and to your left once more.
You must be really careful. That’s what these steps are for!”
~From PennState Extension
Waiting (to the tune of Frere Jacques)
“I am waiting. I am waiting.
Waiting, waiting, waiting.
Waiting, waiting, waiting.
Keep the songs special by only using them during the times when they’re doing the activity.
Let Them Remind You
Let your child feel like the expert in your home by asking really silly questions or pretending to be confused or forgetful about a routine activity. If you’re struggling to get a child to put their shoes on, try putting them on their hands and they’ll remind you they go on their feet. If you need help putting the blocks away, pretend you don’t remember where they go so the child can be the expert and show you where the basket is. Don’t worry, this won’t make children think you’re really forgetful, silly, or confused. They’re in on the fun of it!
If a child is expressing frustration about something, indulge them in an exaggerated fantasy of what they’re wishing for. If they don’t want to leave the park, you could say, “I wish we could live at the park! We could stay all day. We could even sleep in the tunnel!” If they can’t get something they’d like at the store, get silly. “You wish we could get this doll. Me too! What if we got two of them? What if we filled the whole cart up with dolls? What if we got so many new dolls that we couldn’t fit in the car and drive home?!” This shows you hear them, understand what they wanted, and can diffuse some frustration by getting you both giggling.
If you just want to lighten the mood a little bit- dance! Very few children I’ve worked with don’t love turning up the tunes and dancing it out. Take turns picking the song and dance your hearts out together. It builds connection, fun, and can reset your day. This ,Silly Dance Contest is one of my favorite dancing songs. Bonus! The freeze dance element helps teach impulse control.
Laugh at Yourself
I am the first one to call myself out when I make a mistake. My nanny kiddos have heard me say, “Daaannnieellleee!!!” and laugh at myself so many times. I love normalizing that mistakes are absolutely okay, and it also adds some humor to the day! If we can’t laugh at ourselves, the days are going to be a lot longer and harder.
These are just a few ideas to help you find the fun with your nanny charges, and there are endless more when you make it personal to your own sense of humor and a child’s unique personality and interests. There are times when humor is not appropriate (remember not to use sarcasm or be unkind under the guise of humor), but I’ve found them to be few and far between. Nannies can work long days, and adding some laughter, silliness, and fun to your day can only help you and your charges ,stay connected and collaborative!