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Child with Down's Syndrome Won't Cooperate

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: Could you suggest some simple approaches to gain cooperation in getting a child to stop what she is doing and doing some routine activity such as eating dinner, putting on a coat for school, getting dressed? Sara, the child, is six, has language at a three year level, has Down Syndrome, and autism. Control seems very important to her and sometimes a direct approach such as "It's time for supper" gets an oppositional response. Looking for positive ideas and simple suggestions.

A: Clearly, you and your little girl could/can be experiencing more than usual oppositional behavior due to her autism and Down Syndrome, but I will also tell you that kids with 3-year-old personalities can be quite insistent on continuing to do what is currently interesting them as opposed to shifting gears and doing some "boring" thing you want them to do like getting dressed or eating dinner.

My approach in working with any child and parent is to identify the likes and strengths of the child and to use those to bring about the desired positive changes. We all can get caught up in naming certain characteristics that annoy us about our kids, e.g. "oppositional behavior", and treating our kids as if they have some "disorder". My profession, unfortunately, has been the leader in convincing parents that virtually every persistent (and even transient) problem they are having with their kids is cause for great concern and all too often, cause for medication.

What is really going on with your child when she occasionally doesn't want to drop what she is doing and do what you want her to do? Let's view this a little differently. Let's view this as her being so involved in an enjoyable activity that she doesn't want to stop it, not as the psychiatriic term, "oppositional response". If we are looking to identify your child's strengths, why not look at her control and stubborness as "strengths", abilities to become very involved in paying attention to something.

Focusing on her need to control, you can find lots of situations where you give her "natural" control, like telling her she can come get you now or in a little while to do something special with her, asking her whether she wants a certain light on or off in the room when you read her a story, offering her the choice of selecting which pleasurable activity she wants to do now--you get the idea. Between doing these "dress rehearsals" of transitions at times when they are not really demanded and finding many opportunities for her to "flex" and develop her healthy controls, you can begin to take your requests out of the arena of conflicts and into the arena of communication that happens all the time involving choices she makes.

Good luck, Cathy; it's always a pleasure talking with a loving parent like yourself.

More on: Expert Advice

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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