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5 Tips for Persuading and Empowering Children

You'll need to persuade a young child to do many things. How can you do it without being overbearing?

1. Keep fun charts.

Bedtime, getting ready for school, getting chores done, accomplishing things -you can have charts for just about anything! The trick is to keep them short and packed with rewards. Draw up a colourful grid -the more colourful the better- and have four or five columns showing the things you want done. Word these in bright ways: instead of 'Brush your teeth' try 'Make your teeth sparkly white'. Instead of 'Wash your face' try 'Magic away the dirt of the day'. But don't overload the chart -a list of 17 items will rapidly become unworkable. 5 or 6 is better. Then load the thing up with stars and ticks whenever the things get done. Make sure that, when a row of stars is achieved, there are plenty of rewards! You'll soon find that persuasion is easier. Once a chart gets tired from overuse, reinvent it as a wizard's game or princess's quest, rewording the items accordingly.

2. Be funny.

A little comedy goes a long way and a laughing child is easier to persuade. Do funny faces. Put on little shows. Make a fool of yourself. Practice some harmless slapstick. Comedy can tell a child about many things: timing, theatrics, limits and humanity. Young children prefer visual or audio humour -funny movements or comic noises go down a treat. Because you can make a child laugh, he or she will automatically respect you more and will want to listen to you. Plus they will learn to be genuinely funny themselves.

3. Build in a variety of activities -but leave time for free play.

Children respond well to a balanced schedule. By all means plan a variety of interesting activities, but make sure you allow some 'recovery time' between them when a child is left free to play. After an intense party, a child may play with dolls for hours, re-enacting the small events of the party over and over. Free play allows the imagination to awaken and the child to review what he or she has observed and 'make it their own'. Playing out social routines or stories in their own terms is like practising Life, but with added fun. Try not to interrupt this free play unless you have to. For children, it's not 'just playing', it is what they do.

4. Don't use food as a weapon.

It's tempting to use food as a means of persuasion. But it's really not a good idea. Experience suggests that children who have had food used as a means of persuasion tend to grow up with different kinds of issues about eating. Perhaps they associate food with threats or punishment in some way. Whatever the reason, it’s best to avoid the problem altogether and keep food out of any persuasion arena. Children should be allowed a fair amount of freedom when it comes to eating, as long as you are watchful for their overall health.

5. Go for walks.

What does going for walks have to do with persuading and empowering? Lots! Children who spend a lot of time indoors or engaged in particular routines can easily get bored, resentful and resistive. Taking a child for a short, manageable walk, even if it is to the local shops or around the block, can help them to re-orientate themselves. They start to ‘see the world anew’ and generally become more cheerful and animated. This can act to clear their minds a little and usually makes them feel stronger and more confident. For some reason, going for a walk with an attentive parent also improves communication between parent and child, and so makes the child easier to persuade when it comes to those things that need doing.

Getting things done by overwhelming a child with your size and authority is always a bad idea. Far better to appeal to their better sides using the tips above. Then you can get things done and have a cheerful, happy child at the end of it.

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