Family cooperation ultimately means working together. But when we think about our family co-operating, often parents refer to their children simply doing what they ask them to do. However, anyone who has had children know that lots of kids struggle with listening to their parents and often don’t kindly obey our orders.
When parents want their children to do what is asked of them it generally comes from a place of love. If they eat their dinner quick enough and promptly bathe, then they can have some extra time to play quietly before bedtime. If everyone helps out with the chores, then there is more time for play and quality family time.
But how can we get our children to do this when they seem to resist everything that we say? In this article, I’m going to challenge you to think a little differently about family co-operation. As the saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. If what we’re doing with our children isn’t working, then maybe it’s time to look at the situation differently and try something new.
The 4 Parts of Family Cooperation
- Mutual Respect
- Active Listening
- Realistic Expectations
Often I hear parents say that they want their child to listen to them and respect them. Definitely a valid point and something that generally everyone in our society deserves. Many believe that kids have to respect their elders because they are just that, their elders. If you’ve thought this then I challenge you to think about it a little differently.
If we want respect from our kids, then we need to demonstrate it to them. How will our children know what respect is unless we can demonstrate it to them?
In my household with my kids we have the golden rule that we treat people the way we want to be treated. When my kids fight, or speak back to me I often say to them, “Is that how you’d like to be spoken to?”. Treating someone the way you want to be treated is the cornerstone of respect. It is also a wonderful starting point for talking to our children about respecting all people in their lives; parents, teachers, extended family members, friends and members of the public that they come into contact with. As a parent I strive to speak to them the way I want to be spoken to so that I demonstrate the behaviour that I expect from them.
We must speak kindly and with manners to our children. Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ may sound like common sense, and it’s something the majority of us want to teach our kids to say. But do we remember to say it to our children, without barking orders or yelling at them “Will you PLEASE just get ready!”. If parents say it without sincerity to their kids, then how to we expect our children to say it to us and to others in their lives?
There is no such thing as the perfect parent. We all make mistakes. We may loose our cool and yell at our kids, or speak in a harsh tone or be mean. But we can always apologise without blaming our children. Accepting responsibility for what we have done and apologising for our behaviour demonstrates that we respect our children and role models the behaviour that parents often want as part of the respect they want their children to have for them. It does not take much to say sorry, especially because most parents often do feel sorry or guilty for what they have said or done and it does not demonstrate weakness as some parents worry. It takes a strong person to admit when they are wrong and if we want that from our children, then we must role model that behaviour.
If can be a challenge to think that respect has to come from us as parents first. Especially because a lot of our parents told us to simply respect our elders. If we think about co-operation and respect, it can be easy to see how respecting our kids and demonstrating the same behaviour that we expect from them will help them feel respected. A child who feels respected often will fight less against their parents. Co-operation does not happen in an environment of conflict.
If you can start this when your children are young, then you can teach them how to be in relationship with people which will benefit them (and you) in the difficult teenage years and into their adult lives.
The third way to demonstrate respect to your children is to involve them in the family decision making process. This doesn’t mean that our children always get what they want, or can always make the decisions. But, it is certainly possible for parents to get the input of their children on upcoming meal plans, plans for the weekend, ideas of things to change around the house or future family goals etc… If we listen to our children’s ideas and respect their view point (even if we don’t agree on it, or aren’t ready to simply have lollies and ice cream for dinner!), then our children learn that respect is a two way street that involves active listening.
Do you want your child to listen to you and do what you ask them to do? Yes? That is completely understandable. But do you actively listen to your child?
When parents talk about co-operation, they often mean listening. However, listening is not simply hearing the words that another person is speaking but to consciously hear the message and understand the why behind what they are saying. This is the process of active listening. And like respect, active listening is a two-way street.
Children frequently don’t listen to their parents. But, it is often not their fault. They may not hear us because they are involved in an activity, they may not understand us because of language development or they may not ‘care’ because they don’t understand the why behind it and feel like they are always being told what to do without being listened to and respected themselves.
The process of helping our children listen to us the first time we speak is for another article, but we can help our children actively listen to us by role modelling active listening to them, hearing their objections to what we have asked them to do and providing them with a solution to the problem:
“I can hear that you don’t want to pick up your toys and I can see how much fun you are having playing. Let’s play together for a few minutes and then we can pack it up together.”
“It sounds like you’re really upset about what happened at school at recess, how can I help you?
“I can understand why you are angry at your sister. I would feel upset too if someone destroyed the puzzle I’m putting together. How about I help you fix it and then I’ll help you talk to your sister about how you’re feeling.
In each of these examples, the parent speaking is making a conscious effort to actively listen and understand the viewpoint of their child. Children don’t often know how to actively listen, so when we ask them to do something we should always use follow up questions:
“I asked you to do something to help me right now, can you repeat back to me what I said?”
“Do you understand what I meant when I asked you to tidy your room?”
“Can you tell me why I asked you to help me put away the laundry?
Each of these questions are encouraging our child to not only hear what we are saying, but to process it and consciously understand why we have asked them to do something. When children understand the why behind what we are asking them to do, then they are more likely to co-operate.
What if they still don’t care or still don’t want to do what we need them to do? This is when we link it back to the family rules and potential consequences. If you want to explore how that works, get your copy of the Gentle Discipline eBook set to go through the whole process.
When we talk about creating an environment of family cooperation we have to remember to have realistic expectations of our children, and of ourselves.
If someone asked you to do something that you were not capable of doing, then generally you wouldn’t be able to do it. You wouldn’t co-operate with what they are asking you to do. It is the same with children. If they feel that they can’t do something, or are overwhelmed by the complexity of a request (from a child’s view), then they won’t instantly co-operate and do what we have asked them to do, and may simply ignore what we said.
No matter how much we would like our toddler or preschooler to pick up their toys without our help, this isn’t always possible. Little kids especially need multiple reminders and assistance, even if they have previously done it themselves. If you have more than one child it may not be realistic to expect the younger child to be able to do what their older sibling can.
The same goes for our child when they are playing. If our child is thoroughly involved in a game or activity that they are taking a great deal of pleasure in, it is unrealistic to think that they will be happy when we ask them to stop! I know I don’t like it when I have to stop something that I love doing in order to do something for someone else. Instead, being open to pre-warning children about upcoming requests, or being involved with them to help them transition from play time to the task at hand is often the more realistic way to expect co-operation.
If you are not sure what is realistic for your child at their age, put yourself in their shoes. Do you have the evidence that they can consistently do what you have asked of them with the level of support that you are willing to provide (be it low or high)? If so, then yes it may be realistic. But if not, maybe it’s time to think differently about what you’re asking of your child. And remember not to compare children! Just because your friend’s daughter or son can do something and they’re the same age as your child, doesn’t mean that your child instantly can. Our kids are all individuals and comparison is the thief of parenting joy.
Being consistent with what we say we will do, gives our children a sense of security and safety in their relationship with us. They might not like it, but when we are consistent, including with discipline, our expectations, family rules and even our consequences, our children can trust us and rely on us.
Consistency isn’t always easy and some days are better than others. Remember there is no such thing as the perfect parent! But our children will be more inclined to co-operate with us when they trust us and feel safe with us.
Consistency is also about living up to our word. If we asked our children to help us put the laundry away and we told them that we’d play a game with them after if they did, then we should follow through with it. If we don’t, they are learning that our words don’t matter and what we say can’t be trusted.
When we are consistent with our children we also hold ourselves to the same standard that we hold them. There is not the attitude of “do as I say, not as I do”. Why does this impact family cooperation? It goes back to respect. When our children know that we expect the same from ourselves they’ll respect us, and as I discussed earlier that facilitates cooperation between parent and child.
Remember that family cooperation is also about having fun! Families who cooperate and work together enjoy time together. This could be time at home playing games, going to the park or cooking in the kitchen. Or it could be going on holidays, special outings or surprise picnics in the park.
An environment of cooperation between parent and child creates a foundation for setting up family rules that everyone agrees on. In the second part of this article series I’ll talk about setting up family rules. Setting up family rules relies on family cooperation.
As you begin to implement these four components of family cooperation, don’t try and get everything right straight away. It can be uncomfortable at first to change the way we are being as parents and we cannot change everything all at once. Choose one thing to focus on, the one you feel in your gut would make the biggest different (intuition is often correct) and then move onto the next. It can take time to change a family environment, but I know that if you keep going you will get there! As you put them into practice, let me know how it goes!
Comment below and share your experiences about family cooperation.
If you’d like some personalised support with this email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or book in to have a 1:1 parenting coaching session.