How To Get Children To Cooperate

By: Pascal Fulginiti

The number one question I get asked from parents and teachers is, "How can I get my children and students to cooperate more at home and at school?" Before we answer this question, let's explore our methods that we use to encourage children to cooperate. Some of these so-called cooperation techniques are: disapproving, lecturing, threatening, bribing, whining, pleading, rewarding, nagging, punishing, preaching, blaming, name calling, wanting, begging, wishing, hoping, yelling, comparing, ordering, directing, demanding, ridiculing, and spanking (just to name a few). Although these methods have good intentions, they don't work in the long run. You may get your child to launder and clean his room or do his homework, but unless you threaten him, bribe him, or tell him five times, you will have a difficult time getting his cooperation in the future. We must expand our parenting toolbox and see what techniques we are using. Some formulas need to be replaced, some routines need to be avoided, while other methods need to be sharpened.

How to get children to cooperate

  1. Set the rules together

    This does not signify that a parent needs to comply with the wishes and demands of their children. Kids need an opportunity to tell their parents what they think and feel about the rules and regulations they are inclined to set. When this happens, kids are more likely to comply with the rules. I truly believe that when a child is asked what he or she feels about the rules or limits, the child feels that he has some sense of control of what is going on. When the child feels that he has some sense of control in a situation, the child is more willing to cooperate and comply. A good time to bring up the discussion of setting the home rules and setting the consequences would be during a family meeting where every member of the family is present.

  2. Tell them why

    We tell our children to refrain from doing something and in some cases we do not have the distinct idea why. A parent from my Kidstuff Parenting Program instructed her daughter to turn off the television set as her daughter was cleaning up the room. The mother was frustrated over the fact that her daughter would not move an inch after being told three times. I questioned the parent why it was necessary for her to turn off the television set as her daughter was cleaning up. I personally prefer to clean up with the television set or radio turned on. The mother replied, "I guess the noise was driving me crazy". The mother realized that perhaps she could have given this valuable piece of information to her daughter. She could have said, "Honey, the noise from the television set is bothering me, either turn it down or turn it off. You decide".

  3. Let your children choose

    The way we offer our children choices has a lot to do with which household we have selected to live in. In the household that consists of total structure and no freedom, the child is given the message that he is not allowed and incompetent to make intelligible choices. The child is instructed what to eat and what to wear. The child's opinion does not count and becomes irrelevant. Most children who are raised with such firm structures are inclined to grow up learning to comply with the wishes and demands of other people. When a choice needs to be made, this child will tend to become passive and will either tend to avoid decision making all together or wait for someone else's approval before making decisions. It is the controlling parent who wins and the soon-to-be rebellious child who loses. In the household that consists of little or no structure and absolute freedom we find that the decision making process is left completely to the children. We find that children are allowed to eat whatever they want, "As long as the are eating," states one father. "They never like my cooking, so I have to cook what they want to eat." Children do not have a structured time as to when to go to bed. "They go whenever they are tired," replied a mother of three. Brushing their teeth becomes a choice for a child when the parents asks, "Can you go upstairs and brush you teeth?" Most parents who choose to live in this type of household tend to have children who determine when to eat and when to take a bath. The struggles (if any) are usually won by the demanding child and lost by the permissive parent. In the household that where balance of structure and freedom is evident, we find that a parent allows his children to make lots of choices which are

    1. age appropriate
    2. developmentally appropriate
    3. within a structured or limited framework

    For example. "Stephanie, are you in the mood for your gray shirt or your red one?" "Anthony, we are leaving the park in five minutes, would you like to go on the swings or down the slide one more time?" Instead of insisting that they have to brush their teeth, say, "What works best for you, brushing your teeth before or after storytelling time?" These are all easy choices that give a child valuable practices in making decisions. It is also the best formula to get your children to comply.

    "What do you do when a four-year-old child refuses to take off his Mickey Mouse hat before going to sleep?" asked one dad during my parenting seminar. He refused to go to sleep without taking off his hat". I asked the group what would have happened if the child went to bed with his hat on. After realizing that the goal of the child's behavior was a power struggle, the group answered, "I would remove myself from the power struggle and allow him to go to bed with the hat on". One mother said, "If you let him get away with that now that he is four-years-old, what will be do when he is fourteen?" I wanted to know more so I asked the group, "What would happen if the child chose to go to bed with the hat on?" The group responded, "The child would sweat". "Yes, and what would happen if he did sweat?" One father said, "He would experience the discomfort of heat". "Exactly", I replied, "And what would happen?" By this time, the parents in the class were convinced that I was crazy. I could see some students packing up their books and ready to ask for a refund for the course. One parent realized where I was going with this question and she replied, "Perhaps the child would have taken off the hat all by himself while he was sleeping". The child would have noticed that his choice was not a valuable choice and would have taken his hat off. In most cases, natural and logical consequences are the best teachers in life and can get through to your child faster and more effective than any lecture, bribe or threat.

  4. Be firm and consistent

    Children will put parents to the test. Children will attempt to see how much their parents will let them get away with. Some children will be obedient and obey. Other children will want to know the logic behind the desired wish and then comply while most will insist, scream, and interrogate an alarming "No". The parent must remain cool and remind the child only a second time, "You may go out as soon as the carpet gets vacuumed". Case is closed. If you spend any more time informing your child of what to do she will take advantage of both the power struggle and your weakness. Later, return to where the mess existed and find out what decision your child selected. If the carpet still needs to be vacuumed, simply state, "Oh, I see you chose not to go out. We can try again tomorrow." Then leave. What the child does after this should be as effective as what the child just learned. The child will learn that dad follows through with what he says. Some parents may state, "Yes, but she did not do her chores". Our goal here was not to condition the child to do the chores but to experience the logical consequences of her action and her decision.

  5. Time out

    "Oh no", says one mom, "not the 'T' word." "It never works", says another dad. Many parents do not abide to the time out factor long enough for it to work. Introduce time out at around two years of age. The goal of Time Out is not to punish but rather to use as a strategy for helping a wound-up child calm down. Time out is a technique in which the child is removed from the reinforcements and stimulation and asked to regain control of his emotions and make wiser decisions. Here are four steps that should be followed in order for Time Out to be effective.

    1. The child chooses when to come back. Some child psychologists recommend giving three minutes for a three-year-old, four minutes for a four-year-old, etc. They state to gradually increase time factor if the behavior has not been modified. With this theory, we will soon have a rebellious thirty-year-old in time out for half an hour for getting into a conflict with his colleagues. The parents in our group had a problem with this notion. Remember, the goal of discipline is a two-fold: (1) to autonomies the child to make decisions and (2) to hold the child accountable for the decisions he makes. So how would Time Out become a discipline tool rather than a punishment tool? Ask the child to enter into Time Out and ask the child to return when THE CHILD has decided to change his behavior. "Anthony, I need you to go into the other room and YOU decide when you are ready to come back." In most instances, the child will already be angry and storm out of the room, slamming the door behind him. When the child does return, just welcome him back and return to what you were doing. The child selected to change his behavior. Later, you can explain to the child more productive ways to resolving his conflicts.
    2. Do not place your child in Time Out because of the actual nature of the child or because you are experiencing a bad day. For example, negative behavior from your child can be the result of curiosity, testing, desiring attention, power, revenge, frustration or physical discomfort. Place yourself in their shoes. Understand what makes a child tick. It will give parents a more realistic understanding of a child's behavior. Use Time Out only for behaviors that are too dangerous, destructive or disturbing to be disregarded.
    3. Time Out can mean sitting on the steps or sitting on a chair in the kitchen. It does not necessarily mean for the child to go to his room. A child's bedroom should never be used as an area for punishment. It can, however, be used as an area for discipline. The child can choose to play in his room or listen to his stereo. You send your child to his room and he will say to you, "Good, send me to my room, I'll watch television." A mother from the seminar stated, "Yeah, but he hasn't been punished." Remember that Time Out is not used for punishment but as a tool for calming down the child. It should not be a power struggle between parent and child. The child can select ways to calm down in his room. I don't know about you, but I listening to the radio as a temporary means to regain my composure. The child will only reconstruct and find alternatives to his behavior only after he has calmed down.
    4. After the child has calmed down, clarify to the child what he or she did wrong. Either remind the child of the house rules or explain the possible consequences to his behavior. Perhaps a brainstorming session may need to take place. Have the child come up with various alternatives that he can select the next time he is in the same or similar situation.
  6. Praise them when they are doing well

    The most popular discipline tactic is showing approval when your child is behaving well. Occasional praise, compliments, encouragement, and eye contact all help to build a child's confidence and reduce the overall need for discipline. Whenever I visit a local park with my kids, I invariably hear and see the pursuing scenario played There are two children playing quietly in the sandbox. The parents of the children stand nearby conversing to each other. No focus or attention is given to the children who are well behaved. Little Julian decided to whack little Daniel on the head. Daniel cries and both parents (who really did not see what was going on) run to the child's rescue and wipe off his tears. Julian then gets negative attention from his mother. The child quickly learns that during a moment of misbehavior, mom and dad pay attention to me. Everyone knows that negative attention is better than no attention at all. In order to discourage any form of negative behavior, catch both kids when they are behaving well. If your behavior problem involves your child screaming, praise him when he speaks calmly. If he whines and complains, pay more attention to him when he asks and desires for something politely.

  7. Modeling

    In his journal of "Transmission Of Aggression Through Imitation Of Aggressive Models", Bandura agrees that a parent's example is the single most influential manner to teach children how to resolve conflicts. If a father tells his child, "You shouldn't hit someone when they make you mad", but conveys this message with a slap to the child, the child will learn to hit whenever he is enraged. When parents bicker, yell and fight, the child will pick up these behaviors and use them as a way of interacting with one another. My question is, "What kind of role models are we to our children?" They will observe how we communicate with each other and how we tend to solve our own personal disputes. They will detect from us their first lessons about the code and roles of gender identification. A parent who consistently speaks kindly and respectfully to children tends to have a home where children speak compassionate and courteous to one another. I was driving in my car with my oldest daughter, when we read on a church bulletin board, "Speak kind words and you will hear kind echoes".

    The best way to get our children to behave accordingly is to demonstrate the desired behavior ourselves. The three areas where role modeling is particularly helpful are in the following four areas.


    We all want our children to be tidy and do their chores. Before we are able to demand tidiness from our kids, let us examine our own room. Do we demand that our children do their chores while there is laundry that requires to be done, dishes piled up in the sink, and clothes scattered everywhere in our own bedrooms?


    How a child deals with accountability has a lot to do with how the parent deals with his own mistakes. The permissive parent will tend to hold themselves responsible and accountable for the mistakes of others. Autocratic parents will tend to point the finger, blame, and accuse others for their own mistakes. The democratic parent will tend to acknowledge that he or she made a mistake and finds a way to fix the error.


    As a parent, do we treat our children with courteous, dignity and respect, or do we treat them as if they were commodities? The way we talk and treat kids will determine the way they will respond and treat us. Do we dictate and command or request and ask that our children do what needs to be done? When a parent respects the rights, needs and wants for the child, the child will respect the rights, needs and wants of the parent. That is the way it works.

  8. Five minute warning

    A parent should give children sufficient time prior to bringing any activity to an end. This is important if the child is involved in the wonderful world of fantasy and adventure. It is so significant for the child to determine how to bring his activity to an end. Usually a five-minute warning is enough time to permit the child to make that transition. Determine at what moment you need to have your child move on to another activity. This could mean turning off the television set, coming to the dinner table or warning him to pack up his things and getting into the car. Begin by calling the child by his name and say exactly what you expect him to do. "Anthony, in five minutes we are leaving the park. Would you like to spend your last five minutes playing in the sand box or going on the swings?" The child has received the message that in five minutes it will be time to leave and his activity will soon be over. It is up to the child to determine precisely how he would like to bring his adventure to an end. Again, remember the golden rule.

  9. K.I.S.S.

    Keep It Simple Smartie. A parent should check frequently to make sure that the child is not overloaded with directions, expectations, and picky little-itcy bitcy regulations. Not only does it make any child non-compliant, but also when surrounded by so many directions, a child will often forget what is expected. Forget about a child. We adults tend to forget things when we are overwhelmed with directions and under pressure. I remember telling my daughter Stephanie exactly what I needed done before dinner. I disclosed a list of things that needed done. She turned to me and said, "Dad you are making me nervous. I forgot the things you want me to do". I learned that instead of saying, "I want you to go upstairs, pick up your clothes, brush your teeth, turn off that horrible music and go to bed". I should have said, "Bedtime".

  10. Get the child's attention

    Teachers and parents can reduce confusion and non-compliance for all young children by making sure that children are paying attention before giving instructions. To endure a child's attention, follow these steps:

    1. Proceed every request by speaking the child's name.
    2. Get down to the child's level. The child will not feel inferior, but rather will feel as an equal because you have physically placed yourself at his or her physical level.
    3. Look into the child's eyes and speak directly to the child. The child will find it difficult to look elsewhere when someone has established eye contact.
    4. In some cases, it may be necessary to check the child's understanding by getting verification. A parent can ask, "Can you repeat to me what you need to do?"
  11. Reduce aggressive behavior

    A parent should continuously reduce exposure to aggressive models in the home. One way of doing this is by limiting the number of models of aggression to which children are exposed to on television. One of the best ways to do this is to (a) limit the amount of violence on television a child watches (b) limit the amount of conflicting and competitive games around the house. The child should be playing more co-operative and mind challenging games instead of competitive games. I do not have a problem when we offer pre-schoolers (both at home and at daycare) games which permit a child to challenge himself. I do have a problem when we offer games and activities that challenge and encourage the child to prevail over another individual. In the book Introduction to Early Childhood Education by Eva Essa and Rosemary Young, it states children, especially before the age of five, do not need to be exposed to this kind of deterioration and humiliation (pg. 363). Most teachers and parents think that if a child is humiliated and looses, then the child will be encouraged to try harder next time. Kids do not work that way. A child that thinks poorly of himself will tend to avoid any activity altogether. A child with low self-esteem will tend to give up before challenging himself. A child, who feels confident and has a high sentiment of self-esteem, will try harder and challenge himself to exceed next time. When a child feels good about himself, he will produce better deeds and act accordingly.

  12. Say what you mean

    Try to be clear about what you want your children to do. Make sure that what you tell your children are two or three directions and not general ideas. General instructions may mean something totally different to your child than to you. I remember as a teenager, I was told, "Clean your room". As I examined my room, I noticed that my clothes needed to be put away. Everything else appeared to be in its place (or at least the place where I wanted them to be). I just wished my mom had been more specific. Instead of saying, "Clean up your room" we could say exactly what we need done, "Please put your books back onto the shelf and your clothes in the hamper". Instead of saying, "Don't be home late", we could say, "I need you home before 11PM". Instead of saying, "Be careful". We could say, "I need you to hold on with both hands and go slow". Instead of saying, "Bad boy". We could say, "Hands are not made for hitting". Many parents then get aggravated when a child arrives home late or does a revolting job at his chores. Getting children to comply with rules can be challenging and frustrating at times, but giving clear directions can help to make this job a little easier. Clear rules predetermine the stage for good discipline.

  13. Set firm limits and roles

    Set firm limits and rules. I don't mean autocratically control and demand appropriate behavior, which derives from a "Ten Household", but rather, sit down with the child and come up with house rules which both you and the child can agree on. Because a young child is still egocentric, his moral and value tactics are just beginning to develop. Keep in mind that there are certain rules, which are based on morals, values, and ethics, and must be designed solely by you. The child can not be involved in this decision making process. For example, lying, cheating and stealing are immoral and are not alternatives to ones behavior. Let us assume that one of your house rules is "No Hitting". What should be discussed with the child is not the house rule itself, but the contingent consequences which will follow if one breaks any of the house rules. So now you decided that one of the house rules is no hitting. Find a time where everyone can sit down and discuss the issue further. I usually recommend parents to designate a family meeting. Once a week may be appropriate. The purpose of the family meeting is to forum any problems, concerns or ideas that the family members may have. An agenda is probably a good idea to keep things on track. Bring up a problem or issue that each member of the family would like to talk about and get everyone's input. Going back to the "no hitting" house rule, allow the child to brainstorm ideas with you and write them down as to what the consequences should be if such an action is taken with another sibling. So let us imagine that everyone decided that if one family member hits another family member, he must leave the room and "that individual" may return when he chooses to act appropriately. Make sure the house rules are followed. Reviewing the family rules once a year may be appropriate. When a child feels that he or she has a saying as to what goes on at home, the child feels that he or she has a sense of power. When a child feel empowered, then the child becomes more compliant at home and at school.

  14. Instruct children in the appropriate application of things

    This may be difficult at first. But gradually will become a reflex response to discipline. Instead of slapping your child for touching something, remove the child or the object and firmly and clearly state, "Chairs are not made for standing, they are made for sitting. You may stand on the floor if you like". "People are not made for hitting, they are made for caring for. You may hit this pillow if you like". As your child gets into Pre-K, you can state, "chairs are not made for standing, Forks are not made for banging". Allow the child to begin to think for himself and to figure out what forks are made for. The child will conclude, "Oh yeah, they are made for eating with". A parent may repeat this information many times, but repeated information conveys a far different message than repeated slaps.

  15. Childproof and norm-proof your surroundings

    This means that a parent must take all necessary precautions into consideration. For example, cap the electrical outlets in the home and make sure your home is a child-centered household. If children choose not to play safely in the front yard, consider fences, the back yard, or keep then inside until an adult is able to provide them with 'super' vision.

    Introduce books to the child, which talks about the exemplary and good things that people have accomplished. Also, limit the number of television hours your child watches. Statistically, at the age of four, a child watches an average of four to five hours of television daily. By the time this child is ready to graduate from high school, he would have watched almost seven non-stop years of television. Your child has just observed over 10,000 acts of violence. More so is that the media advocates violence as a legitimate fashion for the superior character to triumph. In 1994, I attended the World Wrestling Federation sport event and I was startled to see the way the event involved brutality that was eagerly applauded by children and their parents. We watch the evening news to learn how world leaders still rely on brute force to settle disagreements. Certainly troops returning from war become heroes and role models.

    In our culture, people tend to compromise their morals and values over personal, financial and emotional gain. For example, stealing is wrong, but if I know I will not get caught, if no one gets hurt, if I will acquire more money or if it will gratify my needs, then stealing is justified and subjectively the right thing to do. We need to place family values back in the family framework. It is evident that parents need to begin norm-proofing their child's environment and surroundings.

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