Getting children to cooperate and listen is probably the most shared concern I hear from parents. Similar themes repeat themselves, over and over:
- “How do I get my kids to do their homework?”
- “How do I get my kids to listen to me? I’m so tired of yelling…for nothing…it makes no difference!”
- “How can I get my children to cooperate at… bed time…meal time…bath time…?”
- “Why is putting on shoes and a coat reason for the battle of all battles, every single day?”
Our job as parents can be tough as the balancing act of encouraging cooperation positively and needing to get things done unfolds each day. Let’s be honest, what we want and what our children want is often out of synch. It’s easy, alright, a lot easier when everyone is smiling, cooperating and listening.
Tired of rushed mornings, arguments over chores and homework, stubborn toddlers that refuse to put on shoes or brush teeth, parents will search high and low for any and all tricks, tips or methods that will lead to listening and cooperation. Except that in most cases, “listening” and “cooperation” are just being used as happy words for “obedience and compliance.”
Why not just insist on Obedience?
Because obedience and compliance usually don’t help children learn, nor do they bring real harmony into our families. Cooperation is also a fundamental skill every child has the capacity to use already at a very young age.
Cooperation vs. Obedience
Obedience has long been the idea behind discipline and parenting methods. The problem is that obedience fails to teach children the very skills we want them to have as they grow. Obedience doesn’t help children to learn how to problem solve or to think about the needs of the whole family. Obedience doesn’t promote initiative, creativity or empathy. Obedience doesn’t foster healthy independence or interdependence, self-esteem, resiliency, emotional well-being or responsibility.
Cooperation, true cooperation, leads children to flourish, to feel competent, capable, confident while at the same time able to empathize, share, problem solve and listen (the real kind of listening not just the do as I say / follow all directions kind).
While some parenting experts might give you the recipe for getting kids to comply with strategies such as “tell, don’t give options” and “be firm, expect nothing less than compliance” or “become a broken record until they do as you say” these tactics more often than not work once, twice, three times if you are lucky. They also work at disrupting the parent child relationship, creating fear, resentment and power struggles. Such tactics for compliance also don’t help children learn to make good choices and often lead to children that have low self-esteem and a lack of trust in their own abilities.
Our job as parents spans far beyond just making sure children do as they are told. Our job is so much bigger than this. Our children are counting on us to give them guidance, responsibility, direction, a safe place to make mistakes and learn. Every parent that has ever told me what they hope for their child has used words like “responsible, capable, motivated, thoughtful, creative, and confident.”
Fostering cooperation at home encourages such characteristics and more. Parenting with the aim to foster cooperation also models to our children skills that they will need for navigating all relationships from the early years to adulthood. Children that can think cooperatively can solve conflicts and problems, think critically, empathize with others, make concessions, weigh possibilities, develop patience and delayed gratification.
So how to foster cooperation at home?
Cooperation is about parents and children being considerate of each other’s needs. It is about setting realistic expectations, providing guidance and both sides being willing to work together. Cooperation begins with trust.
Parents foster cooperation when they
Trust that children are capable.
Trust that children want to do well.
Trust that when children are acting out or misbehaving they need guidance and empathy.
Trust that children want and can learn right from wrong.
Trust that every moment invested in the relationship is worth it.
Trust that communication and connection are the glue for a good parent child relationship.
Children flourish when they can
Trust that parents will model respect, acceptance and responsibility.
Trust that parents will respond with sensitivity, kindness and empathy.
Trust that parents will model making amends.
Trust that parents will make time, show interest and listen.
Trust that parents love unconditionally.
Cooperative children are children that feel encouraged, accepted, listened to and have a sense of belonging. As parents, our focus should not be to leave children in charge, nor should it be to take power over our children. True cooperation comes from making the time as much as possible to listen, empathize and appreciate our children’s needs and balance those out with the needs of the rest of the family (including our own personal needs!).
When we focus on cooperation we reduce (I say reduce because nobody is perfect!) the need to yell, nag and impose. We open space for growth, learning and discovery. We create a home that welcomes creativity in order to meet everyone’s needs without compromising important boundaries.
In what ways do you foster cooperation at home?
Do you find it hard to balance fostering cooperation with wishing for more immediate compliance?
Peace & Be Well,
I am not Raising Obedient Children by Kelly Bartlett
Do you Want to Raise an Obedient Child by Dr. Laura Markham