Archives for March 2013

Are you missing the “co” in cooperation?

Tell me, what does cooperation mean to you?  It’s a word I hear often from parents and it appears to be a very important quality that we desire from our children.  Picture for a moment the many needs met when you have cooperation at home:  needs met might include ease, support, calm, peace, flow…to name a few.  No wonder we value cooperation so highly!

So wouldn’t it be nice to get more of it? I’m going to share with you ways to increase cooperation in family life.  But first, let’s look at what we actually mean when we use the term.

“Cooperate” comes from the Latin roots “co” meaning “together” and “operari” meaning “to work,” so cooperate means “to work together.”  But if we are honest with ourselves, we may find that what we mean when we say, “I just wish my kid would cooperate!” is more accurately expressed as, “I just wish my kid would do what I told him to do….and be pleasant as he’s doing it!”  In this sense, what we’re really wishing for is “compliance”…not “cooperation.”  (The word “compliance” comes from the Latin word “complire,” meaning to “fill up” or “full fill,” as in fulfill a wish or request.)

Here’s the deal:  if we want cooperation from our kids, then we must be willing to look at our responsibility for the “co” part.  How much are we willing to work together for the common good?  How open are we to hearing what works not just for us, but for our kids as well?  Here’s where we can influence how much cooperation we receive from our kids–it’s directly related to how much cooperation we’re willing to give.

If we remember that children learn primarily through modeling, then how much are we modeling cooperation for them?  How often do we check in with them to see if what we are doing, where we are going, or what we are requesting of them actually works for them too?  Or do we just drag them along on our self-focused errands, overschedule them so they have little down time, request of them to do what we want when we want it, and expect them to go along with it willingly and pleasantly?  And when they push back, “acting out” needs that are not met for them, do we label them uncooperative?

Who’s really the uncooperative one?

I’m not saying this to make you feel guilty or to suggest permissive parenting where you forget what you want and cater only to your child.  I’m hoping to increase your awareness that your child has her own agenda and timeline and her own needs.  I’m hoping to inspire you to find that middle way…that mutual place of working together that secures a firm attachment with your child and bolsters a solid relationship that stands the test of time.

If you’re willing to look at your part in the dance, then here are a few ways to immediately increase the “co” in cooperation:

1.  In interactions with your child, imagine you are talking to someone you admire and respect (I often imagine Mother Teresa).  Would you choose your words more carefully?  Would your tone change?  Would you be more willing to collaborate?  Would you make a request rather than a demand?

2.  The next time you make a request of your child, ask him, “Does that work for you?” and be willing to have a dialogue and open to hearing his voice, even if he says no.  Explore what would work for both of you.

3.  Ask your child for her input before making decisions that affect her.  Everyone wants to know that they matter.

4.  Give your child choices.  If the task is to “work together” to prepare dinner and you ask him to set the table, give him some wiggle room on when…would you like to do it now, or after you shoot some basketballs?   If it’s time to take some dreaded medicine, ask her how she’d like it?….in a spoon, or stirred in some juice?  At bedtime… would you like to brush your teeth first, or put on pajamas?

5.  When your child makes a request of you…listen, and, if it doesn’t work for you, don’t just say no.  Acknowledge the importance of it, let him know why it doesn’t work for you, and explore other options that might work for both of you.  Let him know what he wants is valued.

I invite you to give it a try.  I think you will find the more you model and inspire cooperation, the more you will receive it in return.  Let me know how it goes by commenting here.