Working Toward Cooperation

June 30th, 2011 by Dionna | 8 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Consensual Living, Gentle Discipline Ideas, Successes, and Suggestions, Gentle/Positive Discipline, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity

This post was written for inclusion in the 2nd Annual Carnival of Gentle Discipline hosted at Parenting Gently. All week, June 27 – July 1, we will be featuring articles and posts about alternatives to punitive discipline. See the bottom of this post for more information.


This post is a follow-up to “The Problem with Expecting Children to ‘Cooperate.’

Playing a cooperative board game together

How Can We Work Toward Cooperation as a Family?

Cooperation involves working together to meet each party’s needs. Respectful Parents Respectful Kids has many ideas for developing cooperation with your children. In Part II of Respectful Parents Respectful Kids, the authors discuss the 7 Keys to Cooperation and encourage parents to:

1) Determine your purposes for parenting. Align your values and your desires for your children with your every day parenting methods.

2) Remember that all behavior is an attempt to meet a human need.

3) Provide your child with an environment of emotional safety. Take time to learn about your child’s developmental stage, to accept your child’s personality and learning style.

4) Recognize the gifts your children have to give and develop the skills to gratefully receive them.

5) Make sure every communication comes from the intention to connect. One great way to do this is by developing the skill of making clear observations without evaluation. Instead of saying “That was thoughtless and selfish!,” explain that when your child refuses to leave the house after you’ve given him time to play, you might be late to your appointment.

6) Be open to learning how to cooperate with your child.

7) Choose to see conflict as a problem to solve.

How Could I Have Used Those 7 Keys to Change the Problem Scenarios?

Let’s look at those four scenarios that I first discussed in The Problem with Expecting Children to “Cooperate” again. I’m going to come up with one way I could respond that can facilitate cooperation.

  • We’re finishing dinner, and I ask Kieran to take his plate into the kitchen. He prances off, intent on getting back to his trains that he was playing with before dinner. I ask again, nicely; Kieran ignores me. I ask again, not so nicely; Kieran gets frustrated with me and says “just a minute!”

Alternative that facilitates cooperation (Keys 3 & 5): Instead of getting frustrated that Kieran has ignored my request, I could notice when Kieran is about done eating. I could then make an observation without an accompanying evaluation: “Kieran, I see you are done eating. Will you please take your plate to the kitchen? I appreciate your help!” And if he still runs off? I could try again: “Kieran, it looks like you are getting ready to play with trains. Before you put your train on the track, will you please take your dinner plate to the kitchen?” Finally, with my three year old, I can also remember to adjust my expectations to fit his age. If it is consistently hard for Kieran to remember to take his dinner plate to the kitchen, I can find some other way for him to help (by picking up his toys before bed, etc.).

  • We are getting ready to leave the house, and I ask Kieran to brush his teeth, or put on his shoes, or go potty, etc. Five minutes later, I ask again. And again. And again. But Kieran is too absorbed doing whatever it was he was doing before I asked to comply, and he says “not right now!”

Alternative that facilitates cooperation (Keys 3 & 6): Instead of simply asking my three year old to complete a task without help, I can assist him. “We’re leaving in two minutes, let’s go brush our teeth together!” Or “Before we walk out the door, let’s see who can get their shoes on the fastest.”

  • I am cooking dinner, and Kieran comes running in: “mama! mama! Come look at the train tracks I made!” My response? “Give me just a minute, I’m in the middle of cooking.” Minutes come and go, and Kieran comes in again with the same request. Again, I put him off. He walks off, dejected.

Alternative that facilitates cooperation (Keys 4 & 7): If I really cannot break away from my task at the moment, instead of telling Kieran to give me a minute, I can engage him in conversation about his project. “You made train tracks? Tell me about them! How long are they? Did you use any double tracks? I’m going to come look at them as soon as I finish stirring this pot!” I can celebrate Kieran’s abilities and gifts, and I can reassure him that I want to take part in his activities.

  • I am finishing a blog post, and Kieran asks me to play with him. I tell him “not right now.” Over the next twenty minutes, Kieran and I frustrate each other, because neither of us is willing to budge on what we want to do (I want to finish writing, he wants to play right now).

Alternative that facilitates cooperation (Keys 2, 6, & 7): There are several ways I can handle this particular scenario (and I’m sure you have something similar in your own life – a work project, a task you need to regularly complete, etc.). Right now I am trying to create a time to do my work when Kieran is otherwise occupied. But in those moments when I really do need to work while Kieran is awake, I’m also using this as a time to encourage independent play. “Kieran, let’s play one game/read one book.” I play/read with him for ten minutes or so, trying to get him engrossed in an appropriate activity, then I say “Mama needs to do about 30 minutes of work. While you play with your trains, I will work in the next room. Where are you going to have your trains go? Who are they carrying?” etc. This is especially important to me, because Kieran has always balked at independent play, and I am going to need him to be more confident in this area when I have a newborn to parent as well.

In the coming weeks, I’m going to take another look at each of those seven ideas and how they can help parents create a cooperative atmosphere in our homes. If you have a story about how one of those ideas has helped you build cooperation with your child, please email me (CodeNameMama {at} gmail {dot} com).

For the first “Key to Cooperation,” parenting with purpose, join me for the July Carnival of Natural Parenting. The theme ties directly in with this topic. Here is a description:

Parenting Philosophy: Focusing on long-term parenting objectives can put present actions into perspective. Thinking about the qualities you’d like to see in your children and the relationships you want to have with them as adults, what parenting practices are you or can you use now to help further your goals? (For more on parenting philosophies, see Respectful Parents Respectful Kids.) Submission deadline: July 5. Carnival posting: July 12.

Join us for the July Carnival! The call for submissions post will be published in late June, and it will have many more details.

Let’s brainstorm together – think of a situation in your house where you and your child and/or partner have had conflicting needs. How did you resolve the situation? How could have you resolved it cooperatively?

Welcome to the 2nd Annual Carnival of Gentle Discipline!

Please join us all week, June 27-July 1, 2011, as we explore alternatives to punitive discipline. We have collected a wonderful array of articles and essays about the negative effects of punitive discipline methods, like spanking, and a myriad of effective alternatives. Please visit our other writers each day of the Carnival. Click on the links below to see each day’s posts – new articles will be posted on the following theme days:

June 27 – Practical Tips for Getting Started with Gentle Discipline
June 28 – It’s All About Feelings: Respecting Emotions and Consensual Living
June 29 – A Fork in the Road: Turning Points in Gentle Discipline
June 30 – Gentle Discipline Recipe: Love, Patience, and Cooperation
July 1 – Gentle Discipline Resources

8 Responses to:
"Working Toward Cooperation"

  1. Mrs Green @   littlegreenblog

    this is another fantastic post – thank you for sharing such empowering information. I love all the examples you have given. Sometimes it’s hard to see how a philosophy can fit into a situation, but you’ve really taught me a lot with your clarity.

  2. Annie

    Yes, I love that you have concrete examples when you are discussing philosophy/strategy–this is SO helpful to me (especially since I have an almost-4 yr old boy who, from your writing about him, seems to be similar to Kieran in many ways!).
    Thanks again for a very useful and practical post. :)

  3. Rosemary   rosemarymjones

    Thank you for sharing so many great, practical scenarios! Hearing some “when the rubber hits the road” tips is very helpful. I love your approach of thorough explanation and open communication. Just lovely.

  4. Zoie @ TouchstoneZ   TouchstoneZ

    I do love that book. I keep it handy so I can read it periodically. Having the concrete examples and workable solutions is very helpful. Thank you for some more ideas to add to my gentle parenting tool box.

  5. Melissa   vibreantwanderer

    I really appreciate your examples using these keys. It’s easy to agree with the ideas philosophically, but having specific ideas of how to use them makes it feel much more do-able. I’m looking forward to the rest of your posts on this topic. I think I need to add that book to my list!

  6. amy   Peace4Parents

    Dionna, I love this series and the concrete examples. It is so helpful to see what we can do! I would be happy to write a guest post on #4 or 7 or any of the topics (if I understood your question about guest posting correctly). :)

  7. Shannon

    Hi Dionne
    Love this post. Our second has just been born and it’s a daily dance to keep things up and positive and gentle in parenting our 3 year old son. Happily, most of the time we’re in sync but there’s so many little trip ups each day. Concrete examples are so helpful because we have many of the same struggles as you write about. What is the cooperative board game you are playing with K? Want to introduce games but haven’t bought any coop board ones yet

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