Top 10 tools for engaging cooperation

I’m sure none of us are so unrealistic as to expect 100 percent compliance from our children, 100 percent of the time. But when you feel that most requests are met with selective deafness, refusal, or an outright tantrum, something needs to change!

Even if things aren’t this extreme for you, compliance is an aspect of parenting that requires some deliberate energy invested to stop kids and parents from sliding into bad habits. Check yourself against the following top 10 tools for engaging cooperation, and see if you can find some inspiration to promote teamwork and cut down on the hassles at your house. The common thread running through each of these tools, and the reason why they’re effective, is that they all remind parents and children they’re playing for the same team. If it’s cooperation you’re after, nothing beats making an effort to bring your kids on-side with the family plan and engaging their desire to do the right thing.

1. What type of child do you want to grow?

Talk to your children often about the things you love and appreciate about them, and send that dream off into the future by explaining the values and virtues you see them developing as they grow older. A child who knows you see the best in them feels loved, understood, and wants to cooperate with the family plan.

2. Communicate confidently

A low, calm tone tells a child that you’re in charge. Keep instructions clear and simple, at a respectful volume, and if you can manage all of that, then add in playful and positive too! Having a plan for anticipated hot spots is a useful technique. Rehearse it a few times. For example, “When the party ends, we’ll say, ‘Thank you for having me’, then walk nicely to the car”. When it has to be implemented, no one is taken by surprise and you have a script to follow which helps you stay calm.

3. Mistakes are opportunities to learn

Take every chance you get to position yourself on the same team as your child. Those ‘whoopsie’ moments can be challenging but are the ideal time to get alongside and make sure they don’t get into the habit of blame-shifting, denial, or negative self-labelling. Help them come up with a plan to fix what went wrong, then give them the space to carry it out, and they will learn that they are capable, contributing members of the family team.

4. “In our family we”

Use this phrase often to build a sense of team and togetherness by celebrating what’s unique about your family. What do we value? What do we believe? How do we behave? It can also take the heat out of a confrontation by reminding kids that it’s the family rule or culture that you are defending, rather than making a personal attack. “In our family we always tidy up before dinner”, sounds much more agreeable than, “Tidy up those toys now!”

5. Choices

It’s worth the extra effort to provide, whenever appropriate, some options for kids when making a request. Even something simple like, “Would you like to tidy up your Lego now, or in 10 minutes?” will stretch your child’s thinking skills, and hopefully even distract them from the fact that they’ve been given a chore. Everyone appreciates the freedom to make a choice for themselves, and on top of all that, choices give them ownership of the task, increasing the likelihood of them following through! As they get older, make sure that you gradually increase the amount and importance of the decisions they’re able to make.

6. Be playful

Yes, this is a big ask for busy and stressed parents, but consider how much energy is wasted anyway through pointless arguments over compliance. Knowing when to get silly is a very useful skill if you want to maximise cooperation from your kids. Singing, funny accents, setting a timer, or turning up the music are all fun ways to encourage children to get moving on a task while keeping the atmosphere light and enjoyable. There’s something about the rush of neurochemicals we get from a good giggle that puts everyone in the frame of mind for getting along together.

7. Use yes more than no, and do more than don’t

Keeping your communication as positive as it can be makes family life more pleasant for all involved. Instead of, “No, it’s too cold outside”, could you try, “Yes, as long as you wear your coat and boots”? Especially for younger children, try to keep instructions framed in the positive – “Put your bottom on your seat, please” is easier to understand and more likely to meet with success than, “Don’t stand on your chair!”

8. Reinforce good behaviour

Sometimes our parental radar seems to bypass the good behaviour and instead zero in on the bad and the ugly. When that happens, the situation can snowball as kids will usually do more of whatever grabs our attention. Trying to keep your positive-negative feedback at a ratio of at least 80:20 should ensure they get plenty of attention for the right stuff – which can then create a good kind of snowball. Words of appreciation or encouragement might do the trick, or for extra emphasis, try a wall chart for one behaviour over a couple of weeks.

9. Celebration

Sometimes you need to make a bigger deal than usual about reinforcing good behaviour. If your child has made a huge effort, achieved something for the first time, or demonstrated a characteristic that you’d like to see more of, then celebrate! Being able to choose what we eat for dinner, eating off the special Red Plate, lighting candles, or a speech in their honour at dinner are all fun and simple ways to celebrate.

10. Family unity

When all the big people link arms, compliance is much easier to obtain. Let the kids see and hear that the adults are a team by backing each other up and going out of their way to voice their appreciation of the other. If you’re a working parent, make it a priority to greet each other when you return home and check in with the other’s day. “What went well today?” and, “What do the kids need a bit of practice at?” are two questions that will leave children in no doubt about the unity of your parenting team.