07/28/2014 04:43 pm ET Updated Sep 27, 2014

The Great Thing About Pillow Fights

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I have to nag my kids from morning to night to do the simplest things --like brushing their teeth or showering. I thought parenting would be more enjoyable! My twins hate it when I act like a prison warden and I don't like it either, but I don't know how to get them to cooperate. Any advice?

There are seemingly endless things to cross off the list with our children every day, and most of them aren't much fun. Getting kids to do things like brushing their teeth or getting into the shower can feel like herding cats. Just when you thought you had made some progress -- your son actually made it all the way into the bathroom and has started running the water! -- something sabotages his momentum. You discover him in his bedroom ("I just thought of a way to fix my Lego tower!") while the water in the shower is left running.

As strange as it may sound, one of the best things about children is that they don't share our sense of urgency about many of the things that we consider important. Kids are committed to living with as much pleasure as possible, which means they are not likely to feel as you do about showering or brushing their teeth.

The more you accept that this is simply the way it is, the more effective you'll be in enlisting their cooperation. Here is why: Whenever you come across as desperate or needy, your pleading tone will announce to your child that a game of tug of war has begun.

And kids like games. So when you come AT your child with desperation or drama, you are actually inviting them to play a game with you. And that is something of great interest to nearly all children.

So, here is my advice: Play with your children! Inject more fun into your days. Chase them around the house. Deliver your request to brush their teeth while in a French accent. Roughhouse with them. Have a hula hooping contest. Playfulness is extremely appealing to children, and can immediately override resistance.

Sing with your children. Have a pillow fight. Set up target practice with a handful of rocks and some empty cans in a field. Your kids want to enjoy you as much as you want to enjoy them. By having fun with them, you should find that they're more willing to do the mundane things you ask. Just make sure they're in the shower before they turn on the water.


Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.

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