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SAHM to Bird (6/07) and Bear (7/09), and now enjoying our newest addition, born June 1, 2011!
You may have already tried this, but I found that for my son who is 3, giving him a "choice" really goes a long way toward getting him to do stuff he might otherwise resist. So like with handwashing, I would say, do you want to wash your own hands or do you want Mommy to do it for you? Same thing with kleenex. Of course if he didn't get it all, I would do a quick pass to get whatever he didn't ... my son would sometimes grouse about that but I did it very quickly. Often if he gets the chance to do it himself first or at least participate in it, he will let me help him finish up. Let's see, what else ... well, he watches Curious George and there's a character on there who always talks about "the proper way to do [x]", so he is responsive to the idea that there is a proper way to do things, that there is an order to things ("first we get our pajamas on, then we brush our teeth, then we read a story" -- though we've also gotten mileage out of letting him mix up the order). For things that are nonnegotiable (like sitting in the car seat, or only using markers at the table) I try to talk about it like the rule is an immutable rule of the universe, not something I made up -- of course with the seat belt I can invoke the law and police ...
Every child is different, so none of these things may be effective for you ... I will also say that as my 3yo has gotten more and more verbal, able to communicate, and able to understand when I make a rational argument (you can't play with that because it's breakable), parenting has gotten easier in some ways. (And harder in others, lol).
I like to exagerate whatever real emotion I'm feeling and make it a game of sorts. The emotion I most often exagerate is frustration when dd (3yo) won't go along with my requests. I cross my arms, pout and act powerless and disappointed in a very comical way that is obviously a charade and never intended to make dd feel badly about her choices. She laughs and bosses me around. Nine times out of ten she'll start telling me to do the very thing I was asking her to do. I loudly protest that I'll turn into a stalk of broccoli or some other ridiculous comeback. Once we play through the entire scenario (when she's giggling and laughing too much to continue ordering me around), I can usually guide her back to the activity she was refusing to participate in and accomplish our task.
I do realize every child is different, and this approach might not work for all kids. However, what I truly love about this approach isn't how it helps me control dd - I love how it changes my perspective. When I make a "game" out of an emotion I am really feeling (frustration, annoyance, etc), it won't be long before I get into the spirit of the game and that original emotion melts away. Also, it sounds time consuming, but we actually don't have to play this "game" very often at all. Think of it as an investment that you make when you can (when you're not in a rush, late getting out the door), or better yet, think of it as dropping coins into an emotional piggy bank. I feel that insisting the child goes along with your goals is perfectly fine and sometimes quite necessary, but remember that you are withdrawing coins from the piggy bank and you will need to pay them back before the bank runs dry. After all, being a small child, with no access to family resources, limited recourse if you feel wronged, lesser abilities to communicate or negotiate, and subject to the apparent whims of your parents is a fairly powerless kind of experience, wouldn't you say? No wonder kids try to refuse our requests; in fact, I think they need to in order to figure out how the world works and how much control they really have over themselves.
If you're not sure whether this would work in the moment, make time to play out a similar scenario when you don't have a necessary activity like handwashing to accomplish. Invite your lo over and jokingly command him to do some silly and impossible task, like put all his toys on the ceiling. When he refuses or looks at you like you're crazy, go into a gentle comic routine and act powerless. Beg, plead and generally reverse the tables, giving him the feeling of power. Play through it as long as you both want and have fun. He should win, not you. Make sure you end with connection in the form of hugs, verbal "I love yous" or similar emotional closeness and your unconditional acceptance of him.
If you are interested, I got all these ideas from a fabulous book, "Playful Parenting" by Lawrence Cohen.
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