Using compliance as a parenting strategy commonly involves conflicts, power struggles and threats of losing a privilege, punishment or bribery. Many parents want and expect compliance because they are the parent or “things need to get done” or “time is of the essence” or safety is a concern. However, compliance often comes at the expense of self worth and it may also dent the loving connection which is the core of the parent child relationship. So how can we encourage children to ultimately want to do what needs to be done? How can we foster a positive, can do attitude in our children?
I believe a huge factor here is moving from compliance towards cooperation. With my three children, I have been really practicing fostering cooperation and I have to say it tends to work well for us. Of course I fail sometimes, my big pitfall are safety issues or being overtired, but in general, focusing on cooperation instead of compliance instantly melts away power struggles – really and truly! So, I want to share some ideas to transforming compliance into cooperation.
Cooperation happens when parents and children work together without any threats, bribes, fear or power struggles. Cooperation strengthens the parent-child connection and through cooperation and working with parents in harmony, children maintain their self esteem, a sense of being capable and above all learn skills to navigate life.
Here are 3 examples of expecting compliance and 3 positive alternatives that focus on cooperation:
1. Compliance by threat “Do it now or else!”
Parent:”Pick up your toys.”
Parent:”Do it now!”
The child dawdles, looks around, keeps playing.
Parent:”Pick up your toys or you will not have any computer time today.”
Child may or may not reluctantly and or fearfully pick up toys. In the long term cleaning toys at the end of the day might become a daily struggle.
Idea to foster Cooperation: Choices
Parent:” Which toy would you like to pick up first, the lego blocks or the action figures?”
Parent: “I see you picked up all the legos, thank you. What will you be picking up next?”
Child: “The figurines. Can you give me a hand?”
Parent:”Sure. I’ll take these three, how about you?”
Child: “I’ll get these!”
Why it often works: Offering choices allows children to feel more in control of their lives and decisions. Plus, offering a bit of help shows the child that cleaning up is something everyone does and the value of team work.
2. Compliance by Insistence: “Come on! How many more times do I have to ask???”
Parent:”Time for homework.” Child continues to play ignoring parent.
Parent:”I said, time for homework.” Child continues to play.
Parent:”Will you start your homework already? Come on, get your school bag. Let’s go, homework time!!!”
Annoyed, the child may trudge over to get school items, possibly deciding that homework is annoying, stupid and boring and over time it may create a negative attitude towards school and learning.
Idea to Foster Cooperation: Make Agreements
Parent:” What time did we agree on for doing homework?”
Child: “4 o’clock after I finish playing a while. I’ll check in with you when I’m done!”
Parent:”Alright, let me know if you need a hand with anything.”
Why it works: Child feels trusted, capable and supported thus deciding to do what is right.
3. Compliance by Bribe: “Come on, if you do it, I’ll give you a toy!
Parent: “Get in the car, we are leaving for errands.”
Child: “I don’t want to.”
Parent: “Come on, get in. I’ll even buy you a present.”
Child: “What kind of present?”
Parent: “That toy you wanted. Now get in please we are short on time.”
Child will likely comply for the prize. Overtime this can not only get expensive, a child might expect some sort of reward each and every time he is asked to do something.
Idea to Foster Cooperation: Listening & Connection
Parent: “So I need to run to the store, we are low on a lot of food.”
Child: “I don’t feel like it.”
Parent: “I hear you don’t feel like it. What do you wish you could do instead? ”
Child:”I just want to stay here and play”
Parent:”Oh I would love to play too, what about we dash to the store together and then dash back to play? We can be super speedy and talk about the play plans while we go!”
Why it works: Child feels involved and connected to parent, and the errands have now been transformed into a time to spend together and connect.
Do you find yourself having a lot of power struggles with your children? Do you think any of these ideas might work for you – why or why not? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to find out!
Peace & Be Well,
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