Teaching cooperation

Teaching cooperation

You tripped over your child’s shoe, you ask them to please put them away, and after ten minutes the shoe is still in the same place. Or it’s bed time and teeth are not brushed even though you asked your child to 15 minutes ago. Does this sound familiar? Well, you are not alone.

You asked your child to do a task but they are refusing to do it. This results in arguments, angry parents and children, and extreme frustration. Here are some age appropriate expectations, ways to teach simple chores, and what to do if your child refuses.

Age appropriate expectations

Before asking a child to complete a task, ensure that what you are asking them to do is age appropriate.

Children who are 3 often can: Put their dirty or clean clothes away, put toys or books away, put their shoes away, put trash in the trash can, put napkins on the table and wash hands on their own.

Children who are 4 often can: Pick up toys on request, put clothing on independently, undress and place clothes away, wash self in the bathtub, brush teeth independently, put silverware on the table, put dry pet food in a dish, and put outdoor toys to their storage spot.

Children who are 5 often can: Remember and restate household rules, ask permission to do activities, follow established rules and routines without being asked, independently do a simple chore (e.g., feed a pet, get the mail, make the bed) and help adults with more complex chores (e.g., water plants, fold clothes, wash dishes, dust)

If you want to see additional age appropriate milestones, I suggest visiting https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/index.html for more information.

Teaching simple chores

First and foremost, be as simple and clear about your request as you can. “Please put your shoe on the rug” is much easier for a young child to complete, than a vague question such as, “Where are these supposed to go?” If you aren’t telling them exactly what you want, you won’t achieve the desired action.

If your child is unsure of what you want them to do, in a pleasant voice, show them what you want them to do. If needed, use a minimal amount of help to help them complete the task.

Reassure and praise them when the task is complete and correct. Use lots of enthusiasm and restate the task they just completed. For example you could say, “Great job. Thank you for putting your shoes on the rug!” However, understand that your child may not do the task quite like you wanted. The attempt is still worthy of praise. This will ensure your child does try it again.

Lastly, remember that practice makes perfect. Any new task takes time to learn and do correctly.

Refusal tips

As preschool age approaches, your child is learning how to express ideas and emotions. Refusing to complete a task does not always mean a it was on purpose. Children may refuse for any of the following reasons: they may be thinking about something else and not hear the request, may not clearly understand your request, or might be more used to receiving negative attention (e.g., yelling, scolding) and may refuse the request to get that attention.

If your child continues to refuse your request, be sure to keep calm and take a deep breath and try one of the following:

• Tell your child, that you are using a timer and will give them 3 minutes to continue their activity, but when the timer goes off they must complete your request.

• If your child is slow to start, make a game of it by taking turns picking up the items. You can also ask them to “beat the clock” to make it fun as well.

• Give your child a fun activity to do or yummy snack, after the toys are picked up. Make sure they know what is coming next.

Working with your preschooler to complete tasks, is a team effort between caregiver/parent and child. What you expect from your child at home will carry over into other settings such as child care, a visit to the grandparent’s house, or preschool. Keep your expectations consistent and your praises high.


Carrie Kube is a director for Iowa River Valley Early Childhood Area Board. All thoughts and opinions expressed are that of the author and not the board and/or its community partners.