How I Use Reframing To Get My Preschooler To Cooperate


I’m about to share a parenting moment I’m not proud of. Try not to judge too much.

The other day I was trying to squeeze in some work on an assignment before it was time for the dinner rush, but my four year old wasn’t having a bar of it. Despite numerous attempts to set her up with an activity, give her snacks and generally redirect her, she kept coming back.

I’m hungry
My pencil broke
I’m bored
I’m still hungry
I want to sit on your lap

Each visit was punctuated with yanking on the arm of my office chair and the usual in-your-face whining assault that is characteristic of needy small humans. I was trying to concentrate and feeling under pressure. We all know high stress levels and small children is a recipe for disaster!

I’m afraid I lost it.


I didn’t just yell. I’m sure it was more of a banshee screech.

The look on her face was heartbreaking. She burst into tears and understandably so. She wanted my attention and didn’t want to do any of the things I was trying to get her to do. She felt like she was being made to stay away from me so she did the exact opposite.

As the grown up in the situation, I definitely could have handled it better, however her behaviour that afternoon wasn’t out of character. She is very demanding and quite often pushes me to my limits. I had hoped that once she turned four, that stubborn streak would ease a little and I could recover from my toddler-induced fatigue. Now I’m starting to accept that she is just a very strong-willed young lady!

Later that night an article showed up in my newsfeed. It talked about phrases to use with toddlers to avoid power struggles. It came at just the right time because, while the concepts it covered weren’t new to me, it reminded me that reframing is a very useful tool with small people.

With kids it’s all in the delivery!

I realised I needed to re-focus on what motivates my daughter and use that knowledge to my advantage. Now, when I want to ask her to do something I reframe it in a way that will appeal to her intrinsic motivations.

Here are a few things that work for us:

Make It A Job – This is particularly effective when she’s feeling helpful. She sees her older brothers get given the responsibility of helping around the house and she wants in on the action. Unless, of course, she is told to do it.

Instead of saying “Please clean up your toys”, I say “Can you do a job for me? I really need those toys cleaned up”.

Make It A Race – Like many kids, she’s very competitive so when I am trying to get her to do something quickly I often make it a race or a challenge.

Instead of saying “Please get in your car seat”, I say “I bet you can’t get in your car seat by the time I count to 5”.

Dangle A Carrot – The example in the article of “When you… we can…” is also a great one as she is always thinking ahead to what we are doing next. This is especially effective when the “we can” is a trip to grandma’s or the park!

Call On Reinforcements – I often use kindy as Mummy’s Helper. She loves her teachers and is an absolute angel for them (go figure) so if we are having a particularly challenging day, I may use “What would Miss G or Mr A want you to do?

These tricks don’t always work and when we are trying to get through the gazillion things we need to do in a day, it can be hard to think ahead to phrase requests in a way she will respond positively to.

There are still power struggles, she’s still stubborn and I definitely still lose it at times! However, taking those few extra seconds to reframe my words so she will be more receptive is definitely worth the effort.



About Author

Renee Meier

Renée is a freelance writer, perpetual student and aspiring novelist. In her spare time she's the sole parent to 3 rambunctious little people. She survives predominantly on coffee and squishy hugs.

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