How is it that when you visit a pre-school nursery class there can be 10 -12 toddlers sitting quietly, raising their hands politely to talk and actually cooperating?? How do the nursery school teachers do it? Here are some of their secrets.

Use language that assumes compliance
Saying "If you stop painting, we can go out for a walk," suggests that maybe your child won't stop. Say instead: "When you stop painting, then we'll go to the park." It establishes cause (cooperation) and effect (something pleasant).

Build consistent routines
The reason children co-operate at school/nursery is because they know what's expected of them. They essentially follow the same routine day after day, so they quickly learn what they are supposed to be doing. Of course you can’t have that level of formality at home, but the more consistent you are, the more cooperative your child is likely to be. So embed some ‘house rules’ or routines into the day and stick to them:

  • You get dressed before breakfast.
  • When you come in from outside, you wash your hands.
  • No bedtime stories until you have brushed your teeth and are in your pyjamas.

Eventually, following these routines will become second nature.

Don't delay discipline
Your child is misbehaving in the supermarket – and you instinctively say 'You wait until we get home ...’. But by the time you get home, your child has forgotten the incident, because they don’t have the same time frames as adults. If you need to discipline your child, do so immediately – as soon as you see him misbehaving. Cause and effect again. In the same way never cancel a trip to the cinema on Friday because of a tantrum on Tuesday. It won't prevent future outbursts, it will only feel like a random punishment and cause resentment.

A magician works by re-directing the audience’s attention. Try a little magic. If your child is teasing the cat, or interfering with another child’s game, re-direct her attention by asking if she'd like to play with modelling dough or read a story together.

Give choices that lead her to choose better behaviour
If it’s a comparatively minor infringement, you may offer a choice. So if your 3-year-old is refusing to sit properly at the dinner table try: “You can sit properly and get dessert. Or not sit properly and miss dessert.” Cause and effect. At first, your child may not make the right choice, but eventually she will, because she'll see that the wrong choice isn't getting her what she wants.

Expect more
Nursery school teachers expect the kids to tidy away their toys, to hang up their jackets and to pour their own drink at break-time -- and they do. Then, as one nursery teacher said to me: "They'll walk out of the classroom, climb into a buggy, stick their thumbs in their mouths and start whining." People tend to perform to what is expected – and kids are people. Really! Raise expectations and your child will usually meet them.

Give advance warnings!
We have all seen our kids throw a fit when it is time to stop playing and get ready for bed or turn off the TV. At nursery school, teachers let kids know in advance when a change is going to happen, so they have time to finish whatever they're doing. So, if she has five more minutes to play, announce it in advance – even set a timer - and then she knows when the time is up and must stop.

Let him solve as many problems on his own as possible
If your child is struggling to build a house with wooden bricks or reach a book from a shelf with a chair, wait before helping. Within the bounds of safety, a success through her own efforts, especially after a struggle, teaches her independence, pride in achievement and the value of effort. It will usually be quicker and easier to do something yourself, but it won't make your child more self-sufficient. Ask: 'Do you want me to help you - or can you do it yourself?' The kids always want to do it for themselves!

Make him responsible
Make your pre-schooler responsible for a task – feeding a pet, tidying away his breakfast plate or watering a plant. That builds his confidence and sense of competency. In a similar way if she was painting on a wall, make sure she helps wash it off. The rule is: You clear up your own mess. (A rule many adults would do well to follow!) When they have done something on their own, resist the temptation to re-do it! Whether it is dressing himself, laying the table or making his bed (!) he will notice if you re-do it. And that will discourage him. But you can make a subtle suggestion of how it could be improved after a few attempts.

Catch her doing something right!
Praise to reinforce good behaviour and effort. Children – and adults! – tend to repeat behaviours that are noticed in a positive way.

Use humour
My daughter Cathy used to shut her mouth tight whenever I tried to brush her teeth. Then we played a game which I learned from an American nursery teacher - Let’s Guess What You Ate Today. She would happily open up so I could pretend to search her teeth for signs of peas, raspberries, cereal or cheese.

My son hated to traipse around art galleries – until we played the game ‘Which room has the most willies in it? Let’s count them.’ Of course being a more sophisticated parent, you may want to modify the theme of this game, but I can assure you it made for a very quiet museum visit with a high degree of concentration!!