14 Tips to Get Stuff Done with Preschoolers Around

Posted: March 24, 2010 by admin in Parenting, Productivity
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I love spending time with my 3 year old son, Carter, but sometimes I just need to get some things done when he is around.  Here are a few tips I’ve come up with to get some things done when I have an antsy preschooler with me.  I hope this doesn’t seem too manipulative to anyone.

  1. Use Heuristics – A heuristic principle goes as far as it can down one path until it reaches a barrier an then switches to another path.  So for instance, I may fold laundry until Carter decides to come and start knocking my piles onto the floor.  When that happens, I’ll switch to something else, until the preschooler barrier manifests itself again.
  2. Give Kids a Choice – Often I have a hard time imposing my will on my child.  I’m sure no one else has this problem.  But if I give Carter a choice between two or three acceptable options, it makes it more likely that he will be compliant.
  3. Reverse Psychology – This is really effective with my son because he is such a contrarian.  I don’t know what the long term effects are of this parenting method, but I can get my son to do what I want more often by telling him what NOT to do (which is what I want him to do).  I’ll use a sort of joking taunting tone as well to invite “misbehavior.”
  4. Opposition into Opportunity – Look for hidden gifts in the opposition that your toddler communicates. When your child doesn’t want to go to bed, suggest, “well, then we can pick up some toys.”  This is one of those that only works sometimes….that’s why there are other tools in the toolbox…
  5. Diversion – Is your child getting into something you’d rather they not be into?  Spark interest in something else.  I will often tell Carter, “I want to show you something cool” and proceed to show how something that is new to him and more acceptable to me.  Carter now uses the phrase on me a lot as well.
  6. Put Them in Charge – Child doesn’t want to clean the room?  Try putting them in charge and asking them what you should clean up next.  Only works for certain kinds of tasks, but can get you out of a stuck situation.
  7. Create an Imaginary Metanarrative – Lying?  No.  Imaginary Metanarratives?  Yes.  If your child doesn’t want to get dressed, why not tell him or her that Swiper the Fox might come and take their
    clothes if they don’t put them on quickly?
  8. Manufacture Desire – It can be difficult to get kids to do things they don’t want to do.  The trick is changing what they want to do rather than forcing compliance.  Think about how to incentivize desired behavior in creative ways.  Leverage toddler peer pressure – “your cousin liked to eat his eggs…”
  9. Tag Team – For dual parent households, sometimes one parent just isn’t in a groove with a child.  Try letting the other parent lead when you are hitting roadblocks.
  10. You or Me? – Like a few of these tips, this one rests on giving control over to your child.  If you’re interested in cleaning up the living room, ask your child if they should do it or if you should do it.  If they start to get to work, great.  If not, at least they are more likely to leave you alone to get the work done.
  11. Don’t Interrupt a Playing Child – Carter can spend long periods of time playing with his toys and using his imagination.  This is great time to get some work done, but I’m careful not to interrupt his train of thought, because those interruptions can take him out of his imaginary zone and me out of my productivity zone.
  12. Fake Errands – Use real errands if you have them, but sometimes their isn’t much useful that your child can do.  Keep your child busy by giving them an imagined chore to do so you can keep busy as well.
  13. Make a Competition – This one almost always fires my son up.  We are about to go somewhere and he’s taking his sweet time getting to the car.  So, I’ll challenge him to a race, just to get him to go faster.  It almost always works for me.  I’ve had some luck with this while getting dressed as well.
  14. Sing – Make a song up about cleaning up or doing whatever you are doing with your toddler or whatever you want them to do.  The old standby “Clean Up, Clean Up, Everybody, Everywhere…” song works at least 40% of the time for me.

Cookie Monster often says that cookies are a “sometimes food.”  The same principle applies here.  These are “sometimes tools” for busy parents who also make it a priority to spend direct quality time with their children.


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