Obedience Vs. Cooperation: How to Transform Your Communication and Discipline Style

Obedience Vs. Cooperation: How to Transform Your Communication and Discipline Style

Obedience and cooperation are not the same thing, and particularly when it comes to raising resilient, happy children the difference between the two matters. A cooperative discipline style encourages children to feel competent and loved.  There are small but effective changes you can make in how you speak to your child that will encourage more cooperation and reduce the need to push for obedience.

Obedience Vs. Cooperation

Here’s an important question: Do you want your child to obey you or cooperate with you?

Let’s take a look if your parenting style is more based on Obedience vs. Cooperation:

If your parenting style includes a lot of nagging and yelling, counting to three, setting up consequences and taking away toys or video games, then you are trying to get your children to obey you.

If you making agreements, setting up expectations, teaching your child what you expect, and are encouraging your child to make good decisions and work with you, you are focusing on cooperation.

The Honest Truth About Cooperation vs. Obedience in Parenting

There isn’t a perfect path to cooperation. Let’s not forget that growing children have many needs, and their own agendas. Add to that the fact that children are emotional creatures and so are we! It’s perfectly normal that you focus on cooperation and occasionally slip into total frustration and end up demanding obedience.

Just be honest with yourself and your own goals, because parents that say they want their child to “listen” are usually really focusing on obedience with a different name for it.

Getting children to Listen is Just Obedience with Another Name

The problem with demanding that children listen, in other words, expecting obedience, all the time is that human beings are by default quite resistant to doing things just because someone else said so. The more parents demand, nag, yell the more power struggles happen and the less cooperation happens.

Cooperation happens when parents and children find ways to work together towards a common goal. If you are ordering your child to do something and there is a clear threat of punishment or you end up yelling with everything you have if your child doesn’t do what you asked, then your motivation tool is fear and that is a control tactic.

On the other hand, when your goal is to get you and your child cooperating, then mutual respect and kindness are present and you are both more likely to reach a common goal. The great news is that getting ready for bed, cleaning up a room, emptying a dishwasher and doing homework can all be common goals when presented as such! It just takes a bit of a power shift….

The Power Shift: Make Cooperation Possible

Obedience based parenting: Means you hold all the power. You own the goal and control the relationship. Children are expected to do only what you say, when you say so.

Cooperation based parenting: means you and your child reach goals together and enjoy your relationship. You as the parent still hold the limits and the wisdom to keep your child safe. Children get to enjoy age appropriate freedoms with your guidance.

Most parents want to have more of a truly cooperative relationship with their children. Parents who come to parenting classes and coaching sessions with me tend to share that they are tired of yelling, tantrums and  “I hate you MOM!” moments. So we work on shifting expectations and shifting power so that cooperation is possible.

Now, if you basically want absolute power and unquestioned obedience, then positive parenting isn’t the style for you. What I can share with you is that children who themselves feel over-controlled tend to exhibit a host of troubling behaviors, such as academic trouble, back talking, friendship and social emotional challenges and even difficulty sleeping.

How you communicate your expectations impacts your child’s willingness to cooperate

Let me be completely transparent with you, I totally get that sometimes it’s hard to take the longer route towards cooperation. A quick obedience response is often highly desirable, especially at the end of a long and tiring day. But the effort is truly worth it for the well-being of the whole family. The more you practice focusing on cooperation, the more children are likely to get on board and WANT to do what you are asking.

Working on my own communication skills has had such a positive impact on the whole family. Take a look at this fantastic conversation I had with my son when he was just 6 years old:

As I was reading a book, my 6 year old son tapped me on the arm.

“Hey mom! How is your book?” he asked.

“Great.” I said. “And I can put it down and play a game with you if you would like!”

“Yes! Awesome! Thank you! cool…can we play UNO?” was his reply.

So we played 3 rounds of UNO. We giggled and laughed.

Then we negotiated funny rules and laughed more.

Soon enough he ran off to play in his room and I went back to reading my book.

Fast forward about two hours and I walked by his room with some cleaning supplies.

“Hey mom, what are you doing?” he asked.

“Cleaning the living room” I said.

“I can put this away and help you.” He offered.

My son offered to help clean the house.

I had to let it sink in for a moment.

My son not only offered to help, he got up immediately, put his toys on the desk and walked with me to the living room.

“I’ll dust over here mom.”  he said and we cleaned the living room together.

Cooperative Communication Sets Up a Respectful Atmosphere.

How often do you say things like this to your child when they make a request?

Not now. 

In a minute.        

I can’t right now.

I’m busy.

Do you ever feel annoyed when you ask your child to do something and in turn they answer you in the very same way?

Not now.

Just a sec.

Ugh, does it have to be now?

Here’s how your parenting style can encourage more cooperation and listening

get kids to listen
Obedience vs. Cooperation: Changing your parenting communication style
  • Model respectful communication.
  • Avoid name-calling, criticizing, and blaming.
  • Focus on understanding and problem-solving.
  • Offer choices when it is safe to do so.
  • Do not focus on immediate obedience
  • Aim instead for mutual respect and cooperation

Modeling respectful communication is beneficial to the whole family.

It’s a sign of great respect to ourselves and to our children to attend to the needs of the whole family.

This is particularly applicable when we want to interrupt our child’s play and are expecting cooperation.

By noticing what your child needs and deliberately focusing on how you can work together, you directly increase the chances of your child wanting to cooperate with you.

Respectful communication can sound like:

  • “I’d appreciate your help for five minutes in the kitchen, after that you can get back to what you are working on.”
  • “I notice you are playing, I need to interrupt you so we can leave. How about two minutes more so you can finish up?”
  • “I’m busy right now, but I am super happy to play with you in about 10 minutes. You can set a timer and come and get me then!”

If we want cooperation from our children, we need to be present, connected and deliberate as often as possible.  True cooperation, without nagging and yelling really can happen. Especially if we care about sharing and respecting the needs of the whole family.

Change the focus from Obedience to Cooperation

Focus on building connection, spending time together, being present and showing your child you care about them.  Then finding a way to work together, even on tasks like cleaning up and getting ready for bed will be so much easier. Not effortless, but certainly easier.

So tell me, do you have any big challenges with getting your child to cooperate with your requests? I’d love to hear about any situations that seem to make defiance or misbehavior show up that you would like to turn around.

Peace & Be Well,


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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a Masters in Psychology and is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, and one cuddly dog.

9 Responses to Obedience Vs. Cooperation: How to Transform Your Communication and Discipline Style

  1. I would need to do this. I know that with the kind of work I have, being a digital nomad who work at home, I should have more time for my son and would be able to share this with him, enjoy being together and would be able to build a better relationship. I am also following you guys in Facebook and I love all the readings there. Thank you so much!

  2. I may have read it before but your post really reminded me about the importance of connecting and modeling. It was eye opening to realize that my “wait” is probably affecting my LO’s timely compliance. :-/

  3. This blog is mindfulness in action. It reminds me to be purposeful in my connection and communication with my son. Thank you.

  4. Thank you for this important message on mindfulness in parenting. How true it is, we often expect our kids to drop what they’re doing to meet our needs, yet we complain when they interrupt our activities and insist on timely interaction. The more we can model the behavior we want to see, the better we can expect both immediate and long term behavior. And we’re raising the next generation of big-hearted adults.

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