“How can I get my child to cooperate better?” is the number one question I am asked.
Here is a common scenario. “I have to ask seven times before my child does what I want them to do. It can be about anything. Picking their clothes up off the floor. Taking shower. Brushing their teeth. Doing their homework. Not fighting. Not talking back. Not complaining so much. It is like they tune me out. Only when I finally get really mad and scream do they pay attention and listen to me.” Then they might follow up with questions like these: “What’s wrong?” “Why are they being so difficult? “Why do they have to make it so hard for me?” “Why does it have to be such a hassle?” “Why do I have to become a mean policeman in order to get them to listen?”
There is lots of helpful advice out there on the internet from the experts: 6 secrets; 5 simple ways; Tips for willful kids. I think a lot of it is really good advice. And I say if it works, great!
But if it doesn’t work, reflective parenting can be especially useful.
Reflective Parenting offers a shift in mindset, that addresses what is going on inside the child and inside the parent. Being reflective may shine a light onto the reason why whatever you are doing or trying to do is not working in the way you had hoped for.
Reflection: Parents and kids have different goals
- One of the main sources of conflict in any relationship is that people have different goals. You want to go out to a movie on a Friday night and your partner wants to stay home and relax, maybe watch some TV. You complain “Why are you being so difficult? You know how much I like going out to the movies on a Friday.” They respond, “Why are you being so difficult? You know how exhausted I am at the end of the week.” I hope it is obvious in this case that no one is ‘being difficult’. Each person has a perfectly valid reason for what they want to do on a Friday. The only difficulty is they each envision a different goal for their Friday nights. ’Getting Out for some entertainment’ vs. ‘Staying in for some relaxation’. The only way to resolve it, is for each person to be reflective about the impasse. In other words to try to understand and respect where the other person is coming from, so they can be more successful in negotiating a compromise that keeps the relationship strong.
- It is really not that different with you and your kids. Most of the time when kids are not cooperating, it is because their goal, their ‘agenda’ so to speak is different from yours. Your goal is to get out of the house in the morning and get them to school as quickly and smoothly as possible, so they are not late, and you are not late. That means them getting up on time; getting dressed; eating breakfast; brushing their teeth; combing their hair, and having their backpack ready to go. When your child is not cooperating with your plan, instead of immediately thinking they are being difficult, ignoring you, giving you a hard time, or even being lazy, and possibly selfish- consider whether it might simply be as common and ordinary as a difference in goals. They have a different goal about getting out of the house in the morning than you do. What possibilities can you think of? They are playing with their toys and don’t want to stop. They would rather stay in bed longer and skip breakfast. They would rather go at their own pace and even if it means they don’t get to brush their teeth or comb their hair. In other words, try your best to recognize and respect their right to have their own point of view. This is what you want as an adult. Isn’t it? Why shouldn’t you child want it as well?
- Thinking of it in this more normal and benign way will help you be less angry, frustrated and domineering with your child. That keeps the relationship on a better track. Also, by respecting and communicating that you understand where they are coming from, that they may want something different than you do, can decrease the frustration, anger and push-back they feel toward you. Thus allowing them to get more in touch with the natural cooperative tendencies that most kids have. And by normalizing the situation, and reducing your negative emotions about it, you may even be more successful in implementing some of that helpful advice you have gotten online.
- You are the parent. Unlike the situation between two adults, it is more up to you to fully understand your child’s goal, than for them to understand and respect your goal. Kids don’t have to buy into your goal in order to be cooperative. Too often parents try to get their child to see the validity of their goal- hoping that will encourage greater cooperation, or because the parent has a deep need to feel understood. However it usually does not work. And it is not even necessary. Kids cooperate with your goals even if they don’t agree or understand them. This because they look to you as a guide for how the world works and how they are supposed to behave. You make them feel safe when you contain them and set limits. Even when kids get older and can begin to see and understand your goals, it is still with their kid mind. Usually they do not fully ‘get it’ until they are adults themselves, and sometimes it takes until they have kids themselves. You can’t make it go faster than that.
Look for more ‘Reflections on Cooperation and Kids’ in Parts II and III
Part II Kids don’t always know for certain that you mean it. You don’t always know for certain that you mean it.
Part III Kids need to develop a separate self- so always leave a little wiggle room. Every parent has an inside story about cooperation. What is yours?