What to do when your child just won’t cooperate: 5 tips for more peace and less struggling

By Brittany Carlson


As parents, we’ve all been there. It’s time to go to school and our dear son or daughter refuses to get dressed. Or we’ve asked several times for the toys to be picked up, and no one seems to be listening.


How do we make ourselves heard without losing it? How do we parent with love but still maintain our authority?


It’s a balancing act with no one-size-fits-all answer. However, there are some great tips I’ve come across from my parent friends for tools to try when your child just won’t cooperate.

 * Validate your child’s feelings.


Lately, my son has been screaming when he spills cereal milk on his pants in the morning, stripping naked and then refusing to get dressed when it’s time for school. It’s been making our mornings stressful, to say the least. When I finally sat on the end of his bed and said, “I know you don’t like feeling wet,” he calmed down a lot. Then we were able to come up with a solution together. (He eats breakfast and brushes his teeth in PJs in case of spills, then gets dressed).


My mentor mom, Margie, said that in situations like this, it’s important for parents to give extra grace and not take bad behavior personally. She said children his age just don’t have the maturity to reason beyond their emotions.


My friend Jennifer said she tries to talk with her son on his level. She’ll say “I can tell you’re really mad I told you it’s time to stop playing and take a bath. Sometimes I don’t like stopping what I’m doing either.”


“Then if there’s still push back, I’ll say something like ‘I see you’re having trouble listening right now. I’ll help you,’ and then walk him to whatever it is he’s been asked to do,” she added. “I find that if I even hesitate for a moment, he will latch on to that and continue to push back. It has to be super confident and quick.”

Give them time to calm down.


When talking isn’t working, try sending your child to his or her room or another quiet place where they can calm down.


My friend Christian said she uses this technique with her kids when they just won’t listen. “They have to go to their room until they’re ready to communicate,” she said. “It’s a chance to re-set.”


Margie, a mom of six grown children, said that when her kids were young, she would send them to their rooms when they were melting down and tell them “come back when you can find your smile.” This allowed her children to calm down in their own time, she said.


 *Stay in control


About a month ago, I started to feel like mornings in our house were getting out of control because of my son’s emotional outbursts at breakfast. I soon realized that I was letting his immature behavior set the tone for the day.


So, I made some changes to how the mornings started. I told my son we were going to give each other a “morning hug” before doing anything else. I started praying with him about his behavior. And when he did overreact to cereal spilling, I started sending him to his room to calm down until he could talk about it. I also apologized to him for when I reacted in anger instead of listening.


Now, I can’t say that our mornings are always peaceful or that I never get upset, but I will say that mornings are generally calmer and there is an expectation of talking about problems instead of screaming and running off.

 *Warn them about transitions


My son’s pediatrician actually gave me this tip at his 5-year well-visit, when I mentioned how tough it could be to drop him off at preschool sometimes. She said kids get so immersed in what they are doing that they can get really upset if a parent (or anyone) tells them to stop without any warning at all, and advised giving a 5- and 1-minute warning to give him time to finish what he was doing before moving on to the next task.


Several of my parent friends use timers to help with transitions. My friend Radhika lets her daughter push the start button on her phone timer when there is a minute left of an activity.  

 *Have immediate and consistent consequences.


Consequences can be natural results of behavior or tailored to what works for your child. Here are some of my parent friends’ creative consequence ideas:


-Use an allowance system, and subtract money per each infraction (Bryan)


-Take away a favorite toy for a “time-out” (Rachel)


-Take away tech time, or minutes of tech time per infraction (Gervais)


Discussing how to handle misbehavior with other parents this week has taught me two valuable things: first, that I am not alone in this fight to teach my children good behaviors. Secondly, that while there is no template for good parenting, there are some general parenting habits that work well. Many parents like myself strive for balance between enforcing rules and giving grace and understanding. For our family, asking God to help us navigate our parenting roles has been vital. Sharing our successes and failures with friends has also helped us learn from mistakes. We’re all in this parenting thing together, so why not share ideas and support? We all need it sometimes.  



Brittany Carlson is a lifelong lover of words and all things chocolate. She is an Army wife and has two sons, Adam (4) and James (2). She has written for several Army community newspapers, including the Stuttgart Citizen (Germany), Fort Leonard Wood Guidon (Missouri) and Fort Belvoir Eagle (Virginia). Brittany holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. 

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