How to Build Cooperation In Your Kids

Scott Turansky

Dr. Scott Turansky

“It’s a battle every time I give my child an instruction. We have things to do and many of those things are for her, but she resists or has a bad attitude, or is even defiant sometimes.” If any of those words characterize your child, then there is some work to be done. Children who can’t give up their agenda without a dialogue are building negative patterns that will haunt them in the future, not just now. See Discipline for Bad Attitudes: one way to address the heart 

Cooperation is so important for a child’s growth and development. The purpose of working on cooperation isn’t just to reduce tension and get things done, although those are two side-benefits. One’s ability to cooperate exercises a number of internal skills and processes. Several heart-qualities combine together to provide the life-skills children need to be responsible, stay on task, respond well to leadership and work with others.

Cooperation is about Character Development

Here are a few qualities children and young people learn in the home when parents teach cooperation. As adults, we know how important these are for success in life.

  • Diligence– Having the ability work hard.
  • Thoroughness– Paying attention to detail.
  • Perseverance– Hanging in there after you feel like quitting.
  • Responsiveness to authority– Respectfully giving up your agenda and doing what a leader says.
  • Obedience– Doing what someone says, right away, without being reminded, and with a good attitude.
  • Initiative– Seeing what needs to be done and doing it without being told.
  • Contribution– Recognizing the need to give, not just take, in life.
  • Obligation– The internal motivation to be responsible and do what’s right.
  • Cooperation– Working together with others to complete tasks and solve problems.

These qualities each represent life-skills that help children both now and well into the future. Children who resist or rely heavily on parents to prompt them through life reveal significant weakness in the area of cooperation. See How to avoid Traffic Cop Parenting.

Remedial work is necessary to help children who tend to have bad attitudes, resist work, or try to do the bare minimum. Cooperation training isn’t about top-down demandingness of parents, although firmness is usually a strong part of the new patterns. A child who has the “wait-a-minute” disease demonstrates an internal weakness in the heart.

It’s no accident that part of a child’s job description is to learn to obey. Practicing cooperation is a form of obedience. Ephesians 6:1 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” God has hidden within obedience the skills kids need to be successful in life. Those life-skills are learned at home.

Practicing cooperation skills such as responding well when interrupted, reporting back after completing a task, doing a thorough job that is inspected by the parent, or simply coming when called, all help to change internal patterns.

This Sounds Too Heavy-Handed

Some parents have a hard time using firmness to teach children cooperation. In fact, some even like it that their children question authority. Questioning authority isn’t wrong and it is an important thing to learn, but it’s an advanced skill. Children must first learn to cooperate. It’s sad when a child questions authority or resists at every turn. That child is in danger.

What is your child’s initial response to an instruction? That’s an important question because it reveals something in the heart. Is the answer typically “no” or “wait.” That’s a problem, especially for us as Christians. Jesus taught us to be servants, care for others, and go the extra mile. Jesus taught us to give up our agenda for others.

That means that our first response should be “yes.” Now, we all need to set boundaries on other people’s expectations for our time and energy. So sometimes we want to say yes but we have to say no. But, as Christians, our first desire is to say yes.

Parents know their children need to learn to set boundaries and, of course, that’s important. But again, that’s an advanced skill. The child who always says no hasn’t learned the basics of yes.

Where do I Start when Teaching Cooperation?

Some parents are hesitant to require cooperation because they know that a battle will ensue. Keep these things in mind as you formulate your strategy:

  • Children and young people need firmness in order to build character and it is important to balance firmness with relationship.
  • Firmness isn’t the same as harshness. Firmness draws lines in the sand and requires responsiveness but harshness damages relationship.

Having a meeting to discuss the value of your new approach can help offset some of the resistance. “Son, you’re doing well in a number of areas. I notice one area that needs some work that will help you both now and in the future. It has to do with giving up your agenda and cooperating. This isn’t just about getting tasks done. It’s about building something in your character. I’m eager to see you grow and develop and I’m going to coach you in this area.”

Keep in mind that a meeting doesn’t guarantee compliance. But it does put you in a good position, communicating that you’re going to require more for your child’s benefit. That’s important for a number of reasons but one is that it makes your parenting more positive. See Kids with Challenges need a Vision.

Start Small and Focus on the Process

Start with small, simple tasks that teach children a process of responding well to their own internal challenges as well as the instructions of the parent. With a young child who tends to resist, you might practice several times in an hour coming when called. That simple exercise teaches a young child to give up her agenda and respond even if she doesn’t want to.

Inside a child’s heart is a continual battle of “I want to” vs. “I need to.” The essence of responsibility for children, youth, or even adults is allowing the obligation to overcome desire. For an elementary child, you might require three things. Come when I call you. Say Okay Mom, when I give you a task. And, report back when you’re done. Those three parts move a child from simply complying to actually cooperating.

Cooperation implies that two people are working together to do something. Cooperation refers not to the task itself, but to the process of partnering. When you define cooperation with those three elements, then the child must participate in the process. When the child takes initiative in those three areas, then cooperation is demonstrated.

Training is More Positive Than Correction

Keep in mind that training is more effective than correction. Some parents rely only on correction to bring about change. But that’s negative and tends to increase tension. Training focuses on a goal and requires practice. Young people who tend to resist or defy need training. Requiring cooperation is important for parents of young people. See Parent Game Changer: Training vs Correction

A young person can, at times, become self-focused, with a tendency to please self. Cooperation is one of the tools that offsets selfish desires and helps a person become more responsive. Investing your parenting in cooperation pays benefits for your son or daughter in their future marriage, work, or friendships.

A Foundational Book

Draw attention to the process, not just the task. When you have your child pick up the pillow and put it back on the couch the way the interaction is done can build character.  If you simply focus on the task then the child evaluates the completion based on the movement of the pillow. If you teach children the importance of the process, then you draw attention to the movement in the heart when given an instruction. Take time to identify the character quality you’re seeing and affirm the cooperation that’s developing. Keep discipline positive by affirming approximately right behavior.

This tip is taken from the book, “Parenting is Heart Work Training Manual.” It’s a practical book containing eight chapters of techniques and strategies using the common experiences you have every day. Remember, training is the key to growth in this area. Practicing doing the right thing is strategic. This book will guide you in several areas to do just the way you interact with your children. Eight audio sessions accompany the book and provide step-by-step guidelines for application.


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