Tricking My Three-year-old into Cooperating

The kids’ swim school shut down for two weeks over the winter holidays, and reentry has been extremely painful. A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I had to force Kaylee into her car seat, only for her to make herself vomit. Zach was able to make himself vomit at will at this age, which is the worst superpower a three-year-old could possibly have.

Because of this incident, my husband was pretty frazzled this morning hearing Kaylee shout, “I don’t want to go to swimming!” over and over. He just kept muttering, “I don’t know what to do.”

I felt myself getting anxious, listening to him repeat it like a mantra. I was starting to get irritated with him, but I tried to be compassionate, and accept that it was reasonable for him to be worried because Kaylee has proven how stubborn she can be.

My husband recently discovered two tricks for getting Kaylee to cooperate:

Withhold dress-up clothes from her
Kaylee can’t put on her princess dress-up clothes by herself yet, and if my husband threatens not to let her wear them, she sometimes relents.

Withhold attention from her
We tell her to sit on a chair in her room and ignore her for awhile. She gets bored and lonely, and when we check on her after awhile, she often says she’ll cooperate.

Neither of these things worked this morning. She laid naked on the floor of her room, happily singing to herself as time ticked closer to the start time of her swim lesson.

I took classes with Landmark Education about 10 years ago, and one of the things they repeat over and over is bringing Possibility into your life. The way they talked about it, it really did have a capital letter. Disney ran an ad campaign a while back, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” I’m not so sure that’s always true, but I’m a firm believer that, “If you can’t dream it, you cannot possibly do it.” Your mind simply closes down and narrows its focus.

So, this morning I tuned out my husband’s anxiety and brainstormed other things we could try. I remembered that having been in this predicament before, I had bought a bunch of reward stickers. I went to Kaylee and offered her a sticker if she would put on her swimsuit. I said I’d give her another sticker after she did her swim class. She immediately said, “I don’t want another sticker.” I figured we should cross one bridge at a time.

Once she was dressed, she still kept saying she didn’t want to go to swim class. I realized the most important thing was to get her into the car, so I asked the kids if they wanted to bring some drawing toys in the car. We have a Doodle Pro and a dry erase board that Kaylee loves to draw on, mostly because it’s supposed to be for our grocery list. She was so excited about using the dry erase board, she literally forgot where we were going. We pulled into the parking lot at the swim school, and she kept asking where we were and what we were going to buy there.

Kaylee still cried when we handed her to the swim instructor and walked out (this seems cruel until you realize that most kids calm down as soon as they no longer have an audience), but within a few minutes she was happily spilling toys around the pool and putting them back into a basket.

I was really impressed with myself for getting Kaylee to agree to cooperate. I had only gotten two hours of sleep the night before, so I may have been extra motivated not to provoke her, knowing that it would only provoke my own propensity for rage.

What strategies do you use to get your three-year-old to cooperate? It’s because she’s three years old and not “just like this,” right? RIGHT?

For more on this difficult year, check out Allison Slater Tate’s post: The Threenager

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2 thoughts on “Tricking My Three-year-old into Cooperating

  1. Mara Migraineur January 25, 2014 at 9:49 pm Reply

    No comment? As the mother of a four year old…I don’t think I have anything to tell you that might make you feel better. Although, my eldest was equally hard as a 3 & 4 year but is much better now. Yes, this is his ‘better’. I should’ve stuck with ‘no comment’.

    • Frankie Laursen January 25, 2014 at 10:13 pm Reply

      LOL! Well, glad to know that it does better. Still hard at times, but better. My husband claims Zach was this difficult at this age, but I honestly don’t remember. Except the vomiting at will, I remember that quite clearly.

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