Reflecting on “How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen” Chapter 2: Tools for Engaging Cooperation

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Chapter 2 of “How To Talk So Little Kids Will Listen”- Tools for Engaging Cooperation

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This was a BIG chapter. I actually listened to this chapter 2.5x and I still feel like I haven’t comprehended it all. My advice is to take it in small chunks and try a few tools at a time. These tools for engaging cooperation in children are vast and cover a variety of situations so don’t feel like you need to be well versed in using them all right away!

Tools for Engaging Cooperation | This Indulgent Life | Gentle Parenting | Gentle discipline | Respectful Parenting | Mindful Parenting | how to get my kid to listen | Book review

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For the hardcopy version: Sometimes you just like to have a physical copy, you can find “How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen at Amazon. 


Getting Kids To WANT to Listen Has A Lot To Do With HOW We Talk To Them:

I would say this was my biggest take-away from this chapter. And its true no matter how old you are. Whether you’re 2 or 102 no one wants to be talked down to. No one wants to be given commands all day long. Just look at kids in school. The more commands they’re given it seems the more they try to act the opposite!

At the beginning of the chapter the author talks about a workshop she gave where she purposely talked to the adults the way we talk to kids… It’s a little uncomfortable to hear to be honest. She used a variety of “instructions” to kind of “set the mood”:

  • lecturing childrencommands
  • blame and accusation
  • name calling
  • warnings
  • sarcasm
  • rhetorical questions
  • threats
  • and of course lectures… I think we’re all pros at giving lectures…

While you may look at this list and think “I would never do that!”, once you hear the examples you realize you probably do. You probably just don’t see it as falling under that category. Or, in the case of name calling, you feel that by telling a child they’re being rude or selfish you’re helping them see what they’re doing more clearly… I may represent that…. The point was that when we use these tools, these normal everyday words for talking to children, they don’t usually evoke the kind of cooperation we’re looking for.


So she gives us 9 tools and 4 helpful tips for helping children cooperate.


The Tools for Engaging Cooperation in Children:


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Tool 1: Be Playful

As she said, it won’t always be the go-to tool because you can’t usually be playful when you’re just doing your best not to scream. However, it’s a really varied and useful tool when you can use it. It can include turning chores into games, making funny voices, making inanimate objects talk, and whatever else you can think of.

Tool 2: Offer A Choice

This doesn’t mean giving them a choice to listen or not, but instead within listening there are options. So instead of you choosing their outfit give them a choice between the pink shirt and the blue. Or mix it up and give playful choices. Hop to the car or run! The end result is the same; child is dressed and in the car, but they feel as if they had some control over the outcome.


Tool 3: Put The Child In Charge

Whenever possible, let the child choose or tell you when it’s time for a transition! The book has some more specific examples of how to accomplish this, but basically let your mind have a rest, give some boundaries or limitations, and let them make some decisions for themselves. That is after-all the end goal right? To have kids that turn into adults that can make decisions for themselves instead of always being told what to do?….

Tool 4: Give Information

This one is all about the emotionless facts. It’s hard to rebel against facts. You’re not directly being told what to do, but you are learning what the natural consequences would be if you don’t follow through, giving you a chance to self-correct. I also feel like it takes the pressure off you as a parent or teacher since the “rule” isn’t because you’re a big mean mommy or daddy…

Tool 5: Say It With a Word (or Gesture)

Remember KISS- Keep It Simple Silly. Too many words muddy the water. Keep the directions simple and emotionless whenever possible. So instead of “Push your chair in”, and all the emotions that come with that when they don’t immediately do what you want, you simply say chair and give them a chance to figure it out.

Tool 6: Describe What You See

Again, lack of emotions is key here. Emotions are great in many ways, but when it comes to your child following directions they can just get in the way. In this tool you literally just describe what you’re seeing. Basically for when one word isn’t enough. So when “chair” isn’t enough you can say ” I see a chair in the walkway.”

Tool 7: Describe How You Feel

Be careful with this one as it’s easy to take this to manipulation before you even realize it. It is a useful tool though and helps children navigate the vocabulary and reasoning behind certain feelings, as well as to show them how to deal with those feelings. Also, when you describe how something makes you feel, it’s hard for a child to argue with that. So instead of “You’re going to fall if you don’t sit down!”, which is emotion filled, possibly false, and easily argued with, try “I get scared watching you stand on that chair. I worry about you falling of and hitting your head.” An added benefit of this tool… it helps develop empathy.

Tool 8: Write A Note

This tool is great when you’re repeating yourself, it sucks sounding like a parrot. And for some reason kids respond better to writing than voices… even when they can’t read yet (though of course they have to be of the age where they understand what writing is). The book gives several examples, but teachers use it all the time with posters and lists and even notes on desks.

Tool 9: Take Action Without Insult

The tool for when all else fails. The trick is to use this tool calmly and not as a forced punishment. Instead this is you hitting your limit and for everyone’s safety and emotional well-being you are not going to let something continue. It’s still good to use this tool in combination with other tools, especially the tools for handling emotions in chapter 1 and to redirect them elsewhere when possible.

Tools for Engaging Cooperation | This Indulgent Life | Gentle Parenting | Mindful Parenting | Respectful Parenting | how to get my kids to listen

Tips and Tricks to remember when helping children cooperate:

  • “Don’t turn a choice into a threat”– All choices should be acceptable to both of you… and something you’re willing to follow through on.
  • “Appreciate progress before describing what’s left to do”– In school we call this a positive sandwich. By pointing out what has been done right you’re setting them up to actually want to hear what comes next. it also allows them to feel like they have done something right and so aren’t a complete looser…
  • “When expressing anger or frustration, use the word I, avoid the word you.”-  This helps it be about your feelings and less about manipulation or name calling.
  • “Express strong anger sparingly, it can feel like an attack”- Be careful about which “feelings” words you use so as to not make your child (or anyone really) feel like they’re being attacked. This would only make the other person go into defense mode and basically shut down emotionally.






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How I’m Using the Tools For Engaging Cooperation with my son.

I’ll be honest, I feel he’s still too little for some of these at only 14.5m (at time of this writing). I know he’s at the stage where he wants to communicate, but can’t which is causing a lot of frustration in all of us. As he gets older of course, more of these will be useful, but for now I would say the tools I use the most are; being playful, giving information, and taking action without insult.

Being Playful to Get Him to Cooperate

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It took pretending the rotoclippers (affiliate) were hungry and liked the taste of his fingernails twice before he just sat there letting me “eat” them. He was never scared, just more interested in the light and exploring it himself to want some magically talking machine eating his fingernails. And who knows the next time… again I just think for his age this whole chapter is a little beyond what you would expect a 1 yr old to consistently do.

Other ways I’ve tried to be playful are things like hopping with him to the bathtub, making funny sounds when changing his diaper, and singing the clean up song while I show him how to clean up his books and toys.


Giving Information to Get Him to Follow Instructions

I figure this one is more practice for me than an actual expectation lol. So when changing his diaper, I inform him that diapers need changed when they’re wet so we don’t get a rash. Or when he plays with the knobs of the stove, I let him know that leaving the gas on could make our house explode… you know the little things. It’s important for me, my husband, and you to remember the age though and what is actually expected behavior. I can give him instructions all day long, but he doesn’t yet have the awareness to know what to do with it. But by practicing now I can make it a part of our normal tools for when he does. And it satisfies my need to explain without giving in to the lecture lol.

Taking Action Without Insult

This is about managing expectations in my household. So when I give the information that leaving the gas on could cause an explosion I also have to remove him from the situation. It’s not punishment that I’m removing him from that spot in the kitchen, it’s safety. Children and adults both need to do things we don’t want. By the time we’re adults we’ve figured out how to do that, at least enough to keep our jobs and house, but children still have a long way to go. So sometimes it’s necessary to remove them from the situation. In our house this looks a variety of ways.

I try to let him walk to the playground without having to hold my hand. This is fairly safe where we are as the marsh is fenced off and it’s a straight path to the playground. Sometimes though he likes to walk on the retaining wall. I mean who wouldn’t, it’s like a big balance beam and makes you almost as tall as mommy! The problem is, sometimes he doesn’t want to hold my hand, but he also likes to sidestep the twigs sticking out through the fence… this would lead to a 3 foot drop onto concrete. I’m ok with my kid falling down, but that’s a little too much at this age. So when he refuses to hold my hand I have to pick him up and carry him or put him back on the ground. Again, this isn’t to punish him, he’s not in trouble and I’m not mad, it’s just to keep him safe and prevent a battle of wills.

What I’m finding difficult…

Being playful… I don’t know why I find this so difficult, but being playful is so insanely difficult for me. Maybe it’s because I’ve had to be the authoritarian teacher for so long? Or maybe it’s just because it’s been a long time since I’ve really played with really young children… When you go through years of infertility you start to distance yourself from them to protect your heart.

Either way I find being playful difficult. I’m working on it and I’ve even got another book or two to read to help me through it, plus I’m sure I’ll come up with some kind of action plan. For now I’m trying to find one or two times a day to be silly or make something a game. Start small!


Photo by Mike Fox on Unsplash

What these Tools for Engaging Cooperation in Children Looks Like in the Classroom.

I’m going to be honest…. best laid plans… I mean I definitely do try to use these techniques and some have worked great (get to that in a minute). But when the craziness of the end of the year and everything that goes into that starts overwhelming me I’m not the best at remembering all these tools. I have tried to be mindful about using one or two new ones here and there though and am interested to keep practicing so they become a common tool in my arsenal.

My Favorite Tools For Helping Kids Follow Instructions At School

I have always been a fan of long tirades about everything that still needs done or cleaned and why we need to do it and how did you forget, we JUST went over it 1 minute ago! Ok maybe fan isn’t the right word, more like I felt the need. Trying to engage the cooperation of 20+ kids all crammed into one room is a daunting task. I also already offer the students almost full choice in their projects and materials so there’s not much choice or decisions left to give. So I tried a few of these new tools.

Say It With A Word

I didn’t have much hope for this one. I mean chaos reigns during clean up time and no one wants to pick up something that’s not theirs! But what did I have to lose?! I guess I might already use this in a way by saying a student’s name out loud to correct a behavior, but it doesn’t feel quite the same. That feels more aggressive than just calling out “Scissors!”… So I tried it. I think the first time was when they were lining up and all having some very loud conversations. I just sweetly called out “Voices!”. And lo and behold after about 4 seconds everyone was quiet! I’ve used it for clean up with a little less success, but still more than the normal method of “Who had the scissors, they need put away, you might lose the option of scissors is they don’t get put away!” Yeah, threats reign in the school rooms… This works so well that I even started sharing it with my teacher friends. And it’s a great change for when you’re not feeling well!


Describe What You See

When one word isn’t enough I’ve been trying to use this. For example, “Paint!” is way too vague. It could mean anything; the paint containers, the sink, the floor, or one of the tables… So in this case I’ve been trying to get students to cooperate during clean-up by describing what I see. So I’ll say things like “I see paint on table 3.” or “I see glue sticks without a lid.” The trick is getting students to pick it up even if it’s not (or they think it’s not) theirs, they’re too used to the “every man for themselves” mentality.


Describe How You Feel

I’ve been trying this on occasion, but I’m still trying to stop it from sounding like manipulation. Probably because I’m more blaming than not… “The noise in here is making my head hurt!” doesn’t sound as informative as it does complaining… I am working on saying it more along the lines of “When I see glue sticks left open it makes me worried we won’t have enough to last the year” or “When a student can’t find the scissors in the designated spot I get upset”… I’m working on it lol.


Photo by Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash

My Next Steps To Be Better At Using These Tools For Engaging Cooperation

  • I need to stop with the “threats”. The “if you do this then I’ll have to do this” conversation is obviously not really helping the situation.
  • Read “Playful Parenting” to be more playful with my son… and even my husband and students.
  • I will be mindful to practice a new tool once I have “mastered” another.
  • Be more aware about what and how I’m describing my feelings.
  • Use sticky notes and labels in the classroom to make it easier for students to put things away properly.
  • Start giving “J” more choices


How have you been doing with getting your child(ren) to cooperate? Do you have any other tips or tricks to share? If so or if you have a question instead, please leave them in the comments!

To see all the chapters from “How To Talk So Little Kids Will Listen” click here.

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Tools for Engaging Cooperation | This Indulgent Life | Gentle Parenting | Gentle discipline | Respectful Parenting | Mindful Parenting | how to get my kid to listen | Book review


DANIELLE BRONSON · June 14, 2018 at 8:30 pm

Inspiring post I would like to work harder with making sure the choices I give my kids don’t look like or sounds like rather threats. It’s kinda easy to cross that line. Especially when I have teenagers and so many of them.

Mamie · June 15, 2018 at 2:37 am

This sounds wonderful! So many of these strategies are fantastic for helping children.

Phoebe · June 15, 2018 at 3:39 pm

Wow this is a very detailed post! It’s really important that we follow the right way of communicating with our little ones because that is also the way we can instill values to them. They copy our words, our tone of communicating and our way of communicating to others.

    This Indulgent Life · June 16, 2018 at 4:08 am

    LOL I tend to have so much to say, hope it wasn’t too much. But I agree. I told my husband last night after he grabbed the keyboard from my son and said “gimme” that he better be prepared for our son to say it back because he’s only going to do what we do!

Kermilia · June 16, 2018 at 1:21 am

This is sooo good! I’m always looking for ways to engage with and communicate with my son better so this is right on time! I love that there are so many different techniques that you can use. I’ll definitely be pinning this for later!

Autumn · June 16, 2018 at 3:04 am

A book that actually sounds worth reading!

Chapter 3- Tools for Resolving Conflict- This Indulgent Life · December 15, 2018 at 2:03 pm

[…] it’s a bit confusing that the tools here have the same names as the tools in Chapter 2, they really do offer a different perspective as to how the tools can be helpful in various […]

Reflecting on “How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen” - This Indulgent Life · December 15, 2018 at 2:23 pm

[…] Chapter 2- Tools for Engaging Cooperation […]

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