Win kids’ cooperation, don’t demand it

30 July 2018

Win kids’ cooperation, don’t demand it

  • Behaviour
by Michael Grose

Parenting is fun when kids are cooperative, but a nightmare when kids refuse to behave the way you wish they would.

Normally, we would expect kids to cooperate with their parents.
After all, fitting in with the expectations of their family is the start of an important socialisation process.
I’m not talking about blind obedience, but a desire on the child’s part to fit in with the expressed needs of their parents and teachers.
But we know from experience things don’t always work out that way.
So let’s take a closer look at the factors that may be driving their unruly behaviour.

The language has changed

When I grew up, my parents spoke more about obedience than cooperation.
In fact, my Grade 2 school report even had a section about Obedience. (Yep, I got a tick for Obedience that year!)

Developing a relationship with kids before adolescence is like money in the bank: you’ve got lots of goodwill to draw on when normal teen-parent conflict occurs.

Adults demanded obedience from kids back then…and generally got it.
Corporal punishment was in vogue, which helped keep the troublemakers in line.
But we also lived in a hierarchical society where men were paid more than women, certain races were discriminated against all over the world, and corporal punishment in schools was the order of the day.
Kids were expected to show their elders respect…or else.

These days, thankfully, our society is far less rigid.
All voices are considered equal and mutual respect is an expected social norm.
Adults (parents, teachers, sports coaches, grandparents and others) now must win cooperation from kids, rather than demand obedience.
The question then becomes, what steps can we take to win their cooperation?


Build a relationship first

Co-operation is more likely to be won if you have a healthy, strong relationship with your kids.

In fact, parents of teenagers will know that a strong relationship gives them leverage.
Developing a relationship with kids before adolescence is like money in the bank: you’ve got lots of goodwill to draw on when normal teen-parent conflict occurs.
But it’s not just with teenagers that your relationship matters.
Kids in primary school are more likely to side with you when your relationship is strong.

Invite cooperation

Cooperation is usually invited in families.
For instance, if grandma comes to visit you can either tell your kids what to do, or you can invite them to actively participate in the occasion.

“Grandma is coming to stay next weekend. How can we make her visit more fun?”
Inviting kids to cooperate encourages them to voluntarily contribute, while keeping your expectations clear.

Kids that usually rebel against their parents’ demands (those stubborn “Make me” kids), will often happily cooperate when they are invited rather than told what to do.
Inviting cooperation rather than demanding compliance works gangbusters with young power-seekers and control freaks.
My successful behaviour management book One Step Ahead was based on the premise that parents can work successfully with kids who insist on having their own way as long as they developed a new set of behaviour management skills based on cooperation rather than obedience.

Use the language of cooperation

In the days when obedience ruled parents generally relied on the language of coercion to get kids to help out or do the right thing. “Do this now please!” “Jeremy, I want you to help your sister with her homework.”

There is still a place for coercive language in families, but it won’t generally work with kids who like to have their own way.
For those kids, cooperative language works far better because they get to feel like they are calling the shots. It’s also more respectful as well.

Cooperative language is different than coercive language in both tone of delivery and choice of words.
Cooperative language is generally more friendly, and delivered using an ‘adult voice’ rather than in the ‘demanding parent’, or ‘whining child’ voice.

Here are three types of cooperative language you can use to get more cooperation:

  1. Give a choice of two actions: “If you are going to make a racket play outside; if you want to stay inside please play quietly. What would you like to do?” Giving kids a choice of what to do, or how something will be done will get you cooperation 90% of the time.
  2. Ask, don’t tell: “Can you give me a hand with dinner during the advertisement break?” A little consideration goes a long way.
  3. Focus on you, not them: “I’ll put the meal on the table when you’ve set the table.” Focusing on what you will do, rather than on what they should do, is the absolute kicker when it comes to winning cooperation from tough nuts and ‘you-can’t-make-me’ kids.

From my experience mums, are more likely to use the language of cooperation than dads. Regardless of gender, when you switch to a more collaborative, cooperative tone with your children, you will generally experience far more success getting your kids on your side, and enjoy better quality relationships too.

What’s more, you are also teaching your kids, by example, how to gain the cooperation of their own kids when they become parents someday.
Such is the long-term impact of our parenting.

Get the skills and tools to get more cooperation from kids in my webinar Win kids’ cooperation without tears, fears and cauliflower ears.

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Michael Grose

Michael Grose, founder of Parenting Ideas, is one of Australia’s leading parenting educators. He’s the author of 10 books for parents including Thriving! and the best-selling Why First Borns Rule the World and Last Borns Want to Change It, and his latest release Spoonfed Generation: How to raise independent children.