The brothers, three and just-turned-five, were engaged in a noisy tussle on my kitchen floor. They were visiting with their mother, and I had found some of my son's old toys for them. Both boys decided they wanted the same toy airplane , and adult conversation was impossible.
Suddenly I had an idea. I set my timer for three minutes and gave the coveted plane to one boy and the rest of the toys to the other.
"When the bell rings, it's time to swap," I explained.
There was no more fighting. I kept setting the timer, and the youngsters swapped on cue, satisfied with the equitableness of the arrangement.
On many occasions I have found that establishing an impersonal signal for starting or concluding activities avoids dissension. A child who might be tempted to argue with a parent for the sake of argument usually finds it pointless to challenge a nonhuman referee. Youngsters forewarned that bedtime has arrived when particular theme music is played on the radio or a night light automatically switches on are less likely to feel they are being unfairly subjected to adult whim.
Of course, one should not overdo this technique. Used in appropriate circumstances, however, it reduces confrontations which can become counterproductive.Children should do the right thing for its own sake, but they develop an understanding of the reasons for compliance and the ability to exercise self-discipline gradually.
Another approach I have found helpful is to phrase questions so they are difficult to answer in the negative.
For instance, instead of saying, "Will you put your toys away now, please?" ask, "would you like fruit juice or cocoa after you tidy your room?"
The child probably will finish the work while still thinking over the choice.
Sharing chores often appeals to youngsters too. "If you give me a hand with the dishes, I'll hang up some of your clothes. Then we'll have time to read a story together."
In this way tasks that seem minor to us but onerous to a child are made more palatable, and at the same time he or she learns a spirit of cooperation.