Google+ Authentic Parenting: Compliance vs. Cooperation: 5 Ways to Talk To Your Children That Will Get You Nowhere!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Compliance vs. Cooperation: 5 Ways to Talk To Your Children That Will Get You Nowhere!

Compliance or cooperation, which do you want from your children?

Compliance is what happens when children do what you tell them to do. Perhaps right away or perhaps most commonly, there will first be a power struggle or the child will recall the fear of being punished or losing a privilege and then ultimately the child complies. Many parents want, demand and expect compliance because they are the parent or “things need to get done” or “time is of the essence” or safety is a concern. However, compliance often comes at the expense of self worth and it may also damage the loving connection which is the core of the parent child relationship.

Cooperation on the other hand, is when a child decides or chooses to do that which needs to be done. Without threats, bribes, fear or power struggles, cooperation moves everyone in the right direction. Perhaps the child will need to evaluate choices or ask for help but ultimately the child and parent work together towards a solution. Children thrive on cooperation – it is through cooperation that children develop self esteem, the sense of being capable and above all learn skills to navigate life. Cooperation also strenghtens the parent-child connection.

Here are 5 common ways parents talk when expecting compliance and 5 positive alternatives to foster cooperation:

1. Do it now or you will not: Compliance by threat.
Parent:"Go brush your teeth."
Child: "no"
Parent:"Go now!"
The child dawdles, looks around, keeps playing.
Parent:"Go brush your teeth or you will not get any bed time stories."
Child may or may not reluctantly and or fearfully brush teeth. In the long term bed time could become a time to be feared and full of struggles.

Try Instead: Cooperation through choices.
Parent:"Are you getting ready for bed? What do you want to do first, brush teeth or put on pajamas?"
Child:"Pajamas." Child goes to put on pajamas.
Parent: "I see you put on pajamas, what else do you need to do to get ready for bed and story time?"
Child: "I’m done."
Parent:"Are you sure? What about your teeth, are they all clean or feeling gritty?"
Child: "Oh, do I really have to brush tonight?"
Parent: "Brushing keeps your teeth healthy. What do you think you should do?"
Child: "Oh, Ok, I don’t want cavities." Child goes to brush teeth.
Why it works: Offering choices allows children to feel in control of their lives and their own bodies.

2.Come on already! Compliance by Insistence.
Parent:"Pick up your toys." Child does nothing.
Parent:"I said, pick up your toys." Child does nothing.
Parent:"Will you pick up your toys already? Come on, pick them up. Let's go, pick them up."
Annoyed, a child may start picking up toys, possibly deciding that picking up toys is the worst thing ever and over time creating a negative attitude towards helping others and caring for their own belongings.

Try instead: Cooperation through kindness.
Parent:"It’s clean up time, would you like some help picking up these toys?"
Child: "Yes! There are so many pieces."
Parent:"While I pick up some of these small pieces, how about you get the lid for the bucket?"
Child picks up the lid, and continues cleaning up.
Why it works: Child is not overwhelmed and yet feels capable and supported thus learning an important skill for life.

3. I said please: Compliance by pleading
Parent:"Can you please put on your jacket?"
Child:"I'm not cold."
Parent:"Please. Put it on."
Child:"I'm not cold"
Parent: "I said please. Put the jacket on now."
Child:"I'm really not cold."
Parent:"Please, just get it on, right now. Please, Ok? Please, I said please!"
Child reluctantly puts on jacket and possibly becomes irritated and fussy from the exchange and the heat. Child might also learn that pleading may be the way to get things.

Try instead: Cooperation by experiment
Parent: "Would you like to put on your jacket?"
Child:"I'm not cold."
Parent:"It’s quite chilly outside, do you want to step out the door and see how youfeel without a jacket?"
Child:steps outside for a few seconds, returns and chooses to wear the jacket. (Alternatively child chooses to bring along the jacket “just in case”)
Why it works: Being able to feel the cold makes the need for a jacket more concrete than having to imagine the temperature differences.

4. Because I said so: Compliance by Authority
Parent: "Eat up your vegetables and clean up that plate."
Child: "I’m already full, besides, why do I have to eat this yucky stuff?"
Parent: "Because I said so."
Child might eat the vegetables and might also end up eating too much and over time learn to ignore the natural “fullness” signal which can lead to obesity and develop a negative association with healthy foods and meal time.

Try Instead: Cooperation by thought
Parent:"How does your dinner taste?"
Child: "Good but I’m getting full."
Parent:"What part of your meal do you think you can finish?"
Parent:"What do you think you can eat before dessert to keep healthy?"
Child:"I guess I could finish a few more of these peas and carrots."
Why it works: Child does not feel pressured to do any one thing but rather given the choice to think for herself and decide what she needs and respect her own body.

5. I’ll give you a prize! Compliance by Bribe
Parent: "Get in the car, we are leaving for errands."
Child: "I don’t want to."
Parent: "Come on, get in. I’ll buy you a present."
Child: "What kind of present?"
Parent: "That toy you wanted. Now get in."
Child will likely comply for the prize. Overtime this can not only get expensive, a child might expect some sort of reward each and every time he is asked to do something.

Try this instead: Cooperation through play
Parent: "I need to run some errands, let’s get in the car."
Child: "I don’t feel like it."
Parent: "You can be my co-pilot and we can call it it a space mission to the outerspacepostal place."
Child:"I want to be captain Ziggalort!"
Parent:"Captain Ziggalort, welcome aboard my space car."
Why itworks: Child feels involved and connected to parent, and the errands have nowbeen transformed into an adventure. It’s also an opportunity to be imaginativeand creative.

So with my three children, I have been really practicing fostering cooperation and I have to say it really works for us. Ofcourse I fail sometimes, my big pitfall are safety issues…What about you? Have you everstopped to wonder if the way you are talking to your child is inviting cooperation or demanding compliance?

Peace and Be Well,

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  1. My biggest challenge is compliance through pleading at bed time and interviewing when my 3 year old and 14 month old fight.
    Thanks for the practical advice - I would add Dr Laura Markhams advice on connection between parent and child as being the number one way to keep your children wanting to cooperate - that and us changing our expectation from compliance to cooperation!

  2. Sigh, I have so much to learn. I was raised where immediate obedience was a must with a spank for not doing so. So immediate obedience is my default setting but without the spank. So I try other methods of coercion. I just don't seem to think straight when my authority is challenged. I feel
    like I am never going to get it right. But thank you for the ideas. Maybe if I read it enough I will start remembering in the moment.

  3. I have to admit that I do the pleading and the insistence too... sometimes you're just lost. But I love the suggestions and I'll keep trying ;)
    @Anonymous: the first step is awareness, and that's a really big step to make. And remember, the journey is just as important as the end goal. If your child sees you actively trying to change, they'll learn a big lesson!

  4. Hi, my name is Heather! Please email me when you can, I have a question about your blog!


  5. Teresa - thank you for your comments, I couldn't agree more, Dr. Markham has some great resources on connection and cooperation!

  6. Annonymous -it sounds like you are aware of your triggers which is such a good step and the fact that you are not going down the spank route is such a gift to you and your child(ren). The idea to read and re-read any resources on positive solutions can absolutely help you focus in the moment. hang in there! thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  7. Are you for real? Im all for respecting my children and their needs but simply asking them if their teeth feel dirty does nothing as far as encouraging them to clean them. As for eating their peas and carrots they have no understanding or reference of what being unhealthy might mean for them even if I have explained that to them. I don't want to be disrespectful to my children but I also fear that allowing them to do what they want when they want will not lead them to a happy life.

    1. Helping them understand why they may want or not want something is a great gift to them. I see my now 11 year old daughter making well thought out decisions. They may not be what I would choose for her, but she has really great reasons for choosing what she does. And because of her level of autonomy, and the mutual respect we share, we can talk about our choices and why we made them, and what other choices could have been made. I have given her choices since she was a wee one. So far, so good. One of the biggest benefits: I do NOT worry about her being pressed into difficult situations by peers. She knows how to make her own choices and stand by them.

  8. Anonymous #7 these are suggestions and examples on how to focus on cooperative communication and I have used various situations to ilustrate how it can be adapted to every day parenting. The teeth brushing or veggies example might not work for you, or could it? I often see it work with children. As young as 2, as they like being trusted to make these decisions! For each family different situations might call for a different solutions. I see your concern about letting children do what they want, this is not an endorsement to be a permissive parent, As the post states "cooperations is when a child decides or chooses to do that which needs to be done." which is not always the same as what they want. A recent post of mine talks about being kind but being firm and how to set limits offering.html Thank you for your thoughts

  9. Being creative and thinking of ways of involving intelligent beings whose wants and points of view do matter is hard work (harder than coercing, bribing or demanding) but really worth it. These are some great examples of ways to start thinking within this new paradigm. Awesome post - so sharing this!! :)


  10. Aha. You just named two examples I consistently do "wrong" (toys and teeth brushing). Love your suggestions. Thank you!


  11. I sure wish I could have cooperation without having to work for it, especially around ordinary routine things like all of these. I don't mind as much when the issue is not an ordinary routine one.

  12. This is a wonderfully clear outline of ideas to set goals by.

    I admit my issue is safety situations too. I just had my son and my usually gentle daughter seems (and sometimes is) rougher than she should be. Since self-weaning due to supply issues from the pregnancy she has become obsessed with noses and must. touch. baby's. nose. (She touches everyone and everything's nose.) She gets worse when she is tired, of course. When it comes to safety, such as her grabbing something breakable and not for her or particularly with the mama bear feeling I get with my son, I can't figure out a good, effective way towards cooperation. I feel the urgency of compliance in those moments.

    At 2 yrs 2 mths she is hearing my tone and urgency and is often choosing those moments to exhibit independence that goes directly against what I am saying -- she will throw what is in her hand or say "don't push me" and get angry when I put a hand over baby to protect him from her leaning on him or grab her hand to keep her from touching him when he is sleeping. Then I feel bad that my child is telling me not to push her. I have never gotten physical like that with her before (even though I'm not actually pushing or hurting her). This is definitely our (my) darkest moment so far. She genuinely loves and wants to play with him, I believe. While I can find alternatives and choices and other ways to help with other things, this has been stumping me and making for a difficult transition.

    Anyone have ideas or inspiration (or wording) for me? I'd appreciate the suggestions....

  13. Gauri - thank you and thank you for sharing!

    Maggy - thanks for stopping by, would love to hear how it goes when you try it out!

  14. Hey ladies! I do a blog over at mama birth- I was wondering....
    I loved this post and I wanted to do kind of a spoof on it (like about how my kids respond when I do some of this some of the time). I just wanted to make sure you knew it was coming and didn't get offended. I don't mean it that way. Is that OK? I can let you know when it comes up-

    Sarah @ mama birth

  15. Sheila, I can relate to the mama bear feeling, post partum was tough in first few weeks for me with my other kiddos being also so little.(22 months and 26 months the next time) Does your dd have a doll she can dote on and love and imitate you with? Can you include her in tasks like handing you diapers and wipes? Anything that can help her help you and baby so she feels included? Also, the breakable items, can you put them away for now? I had to de-clutter a lot temporarily to create a more yes environment, it was worth it to remove these struggles. Also taking time to show my 2nd old how to gently pat baby feet and put lotion on baby feet worked well to learn being gentle and feel involved. It's not easy, hang in there!

  16. Well, after many breaths, reading some other bookmarked articles and checking out Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids I calmed down and was able to realize l needed some time w them each alone. That ended up making me feel so much relief that I've been able to handle things better. As a result my daughter has been much calmer and gentler with baby and more cooperative in general. We finally got to a "no face" and "kissy spots" (everywhere else) agreement that is helping all of us. I love your suggestions though. We do try to have her help when possible (she helped daddy with the whole laundry process!) but I haven't hit up the doll idea too much. Did put things that are breakable away, so that's helpful. Part of it was just being stuck in the one room for so long where there really wasn't stuff for her and a lot of stuff not for her. I made a shelf with her things so we can play together and read books. Now I can say my bedside table is just for mama. Much easier. Thanks for getting back to me and for the post!

  17. Very nice, thank you so much.

  18. So, what do you do when you try the things that are listed and they dont work?? I try giving my ds choices and often he just doesn't choose one. Or, I offer to help clean up and he just ends up watching me do it all!

  19. So, what do you do if you try these things and they don't work? I try giving him choices and at times he just doesn't choose either one... Say, like with bedtime routine. Or, I'll offer to help clean up and he ends up just watching me!

  20. Great tips, I'll be sure to try them out.

  21. I do wish it were that simple. I understand having the tools, and using them. But there are days when there is just no way the kids want to comply, no matter how fun I make the offering. Then what? When the tools fail, what is left? When the family has to go out, and one flat out refuses to go, no matter what. There are a million examples. Sometimes a child will not cooperate, no matter what.


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