Menucha is the popular author of sixty children's books,
eleven of which have already appeared in English, and a new
textbook Reader, "Sha'a Shel Menucha", for schools
Getting Children to Cooperate
Many parents claim that their generally positive
relationships with their children are subject to blowups when
the child is asked to do a chore which he doesn't happen to
enjoy, such as picking up his toys, washing the dishes or
taking down the garbage. The problem of balking at parental
requests is common to all ages. How can we get our children
to do chores eagerly and enthusiastically?
Children cooperate better when they are pleasantly addressed,
and when the home atmosphere is congenial. In order to create
such an atmosphere, we must chose our words carefully, and
not bark commands, such as: "Fold the laundry right now!"
"Wash those dishes; scrub that floor!" Commands generally
boomerang, and are countered with hostility and belligerence.
The child who is ordered to do a chore, feels that he has
been attacked and must fight back. As in all wars, there are
winners and losers. Although we might win once, the clever
child won't remain owing, and will score a hit next time
around, if only by his stubborn noncompliance during the
In order to avoid being on the offensive with our children,
constantly needling and forcing them to obey, we should
remind ourselves that no human being is perfect, and that
even adults are liable to approach their responsibilities
halfheartedly. We, too, often procrastinate and postpone
important assignments, simply because we have no desire to
tackle them at the moment. If we recall this, and don't snarl
at our children when we make requests of them, they will be
much more responsive to our biddings. Instead of scowling:
"Go! Do!" or asking: "Why didn't you obey me?" it is far
better to say: "I see that you still haven't managed to pair
the socks together," or "The neighbor is waiting for the
flour." Such remarks aptly convey our intentions, but more
mildly than a snappy order. A child would much rather carry
out a request which is posed gently and obligingly, than one
which is stated as a gruff command or battle cry.
Children Crave Appreciation
Most children are happy to help their parents, provided that
their parents appreciate them, and do not consider such help
self-evident. Adults also like to be patted on the back when
they have done something good. A woman prepares dinner
because that is her duty. Nonetheless, when she is
complimented for her efforts, she is pleased. A child who
knows that his parents appreciate his efforts will try and do
an even better job the next time.
If our true aim is to encourage our children, we shouldn't
expect perfection from them, nor constant compliance. Those
occasions on which a generally uncooperative child does his
chores willingly should be used as springboards to foster
further positive activity.
All of us are more productive when we feel that our efforts
will be rewarded. A woman who cleans her home, delights in
the order she has instated. If the mess returns the moment
she has finished cleaning, she will despair.
With young children, the "If you do x then you can get y"
approach works. We are not referring to the awarding of
prizes, but rather to the pointing to the direct consequences
of our deeds: "If you finish collecting the toys immediately,
we will be able to color." "If Ruthy does the dishes quickly,
we'll have time to go shopping today."
Enlist the Help of the Less Cooperative Child
We generally seek the help of our cooperative children, but
by such a course of action, we also brand some children as
successful, helpful and capable and others as unhelpful,
incapable and unsuccessful. The result of such labeling is
that the helpful child continues to be helpful, while the
uncooperative child's negative image is reinforced, simply
because he has never been encouraged nor given the
opportunity to prove his prowess.
It's a good idea, then, to solicit the help of all of our
children on an equal basis. True, it is easier to ask the
cooperative child for help, but why deprive the other type of
child of the opportunity to grow and learn?
Some children are helpful by nature. They like tidy homes,
and enjoy pitching in when necessary. However, the less
cooperative children are not bad or lazy, but rather have
different natures. They may be inventive children, who prefer
creative projects. As a result, we should tailor our requests
to their particular natures. Such children will probably be
very eager to help Abba repair a broken item or to redecorate
Very creative children generally don't like to do things
our way but rather their way. If we insist that
they follow our instructions to the tee, we are liable to not
only to forfeit their help, but also to stunt their
* Children work best when parents work along with them.
Instead of saying: "Straighten the room," just roll up your
sleeves, and do it together. Just begin, and things will
begin to move. Afterward, step out of the picture, and you'll
see that they'll finish without you!
* Sometimes it's easier to do the job ourselves. But our
purpose is to educate our children to assume responsibility.
Therefore, parents should accustom themselves to enlisting a
child's help, even when they don't need it.
* The self-esteem of a child who helps is bolstered. He feels
trusted and respected.
* It's not the end of the world if a child refuses to help.
He should be given another chance.
* At certain ages, helping should take the form of a game.
Instead of saying: "Collect the pieces of the game and put
them back in the box," we could try: "Pretend that you're a
basketball player. See if you can toss the pieces into this
basket." Next time around, your child will associate
collecting the pieces with a fun-filled activity.
* Work against the clock. Try: "Let's see if we can tidy up
this room in fifteen minutes." Make sure there is a clock to
watch so they can gauge their progress and pick up speed, if
necessary, to make the deadline.
* Remember there's a limit. If we make too many requests, the
child will balk at them. If we don't overdo it, he'll be
happier to comply.
If in a particular instance, we feel that a child must
conform no matter what, we should use the command form, and
not a request form.