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."
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
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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