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Chapter 5: Cooperation Toolset                                                              113






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To build a house, a contractor needs a team of workers and the master blueprint. The team includes specialists and assistants who have assigned tasks. Together, they build the house. The contractor oversees the work and assures quality and timeliness. If the contractor orders people around and treats them disrespectfully, the discouraged and unappreciated workers might not perform their duties well. They might cut corners just to say they are finished, complain about their treatment, argue, and in some cases, refuse to cooperate. Getting fired might not even matter, for there are times when unemployment seems better than having a job where one is repeatedly mistreated.

In families, parents are the contractors who have the master blueprint. They need the cooperation of their team, the children, to help the family function in healthy ways. Sometimes children have special talents or skills to offer the family, while others help with tasks as their skills develop. If parents bark orders and treat children disrespectfully, as though they are inferior people, the children become discouraged and uncooperative. They may do as little as possible, complain about unfair treatment, and resist the parent’s requests for cooperation. While children can’t quit the family, they might resist participating in family activities if they think they will be repeatedly mistreated. Some children would rather argue or fight for some control than be blindly submissive.



This chapter encourages us to consider three important parenting ideas:

  1. Promoting cooperation is more effective, both short-term and long-term, than demanding obedience.
  2. Internal motivation is healthier and more effective than external motivation.
  3. We can promote cooperation and internal motivation by using the special language of cooperation— using positive words to make requests or set limits and offering positive choices within those limits.



We want to use the Cooperation Toolset as part of our permanent, daily style of parenting. When children say “no,” test limits, and make smart remarks, they usually get into power struggles with their parents. We can use the Cooperation Toolset to avoid or stop these power struggles. When we use the Cooperation Toolset, we usually notice an immediate change in both our attitude and our children’s responses. We work together with our children as a team, instead of working against each other.



There is a big difference between demanding obedience and promoting cooperation. First let’s look at the negative effects of demanding obedience and compare them to more cooperative attitudes. Then we can learn the specific tools to use when we want more cooperation from our children.

Demanding Attitudes

Children usually want to be helpful, but our attitude or tone of voice can unintentionally discourage cooperation or start a power struggle. If we want more cooperation, we must change the negative attitudes that start power struggles: demanding power, wanting to control others, needing to win, or wanting children to obey commands. Dogs are trained to obey commands. People can be motivated to voluntarily cooperate with respectful requests.


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When parents feel superior, giving orders to inferior family members, they often speak to their children disrespectfully. “I set the rules and you follow them.” These attitudes create resentment and parents are more likely to get disrespectful attitudes and replies in return.

Healthy families value each person’s role in and contribution to the family, despite age or ability. When children feel their contribution is important, they naturally want to cooperate more. They learn “We cooperate and help each other, not because someone makes us, but because we are a family who works together. We need each other.” This approach differs from permissiveness, where children have few responsibilities and parents do too much for their children. A team theme helps the household run smoother and makes it easier to uphold family rules and practices.



It is a natural reaction to resist someone who is trying to control us. Most children and adults don’t like being told what to do, how to do it, and when to do it in a rigid or demanding way. Most of us are willing to do what others ask, unless they speak disrespectfully and demand that we do something. Allowing others to treat us disrespectfully lowers our self-respect and self-esteem.



When asking a child to do a task, we usually think we know the best way to get the task done. Often, we are in such a hurry that we don’t stop and listen to the child’s ideas. Our children’s stubbornness is often an effort to get us to listen to their ideas or let them be more involved in planning how to do a task. If children are more involved in the planning, it increases their motivation to cooperate.

Most of us think that if others need our help, we should have some say about how, where, or when we do the job. Children are no different. When we focus on cooperation, a task doesn’t have to be done exactly  the way we might do it, but must meet realistic time and quality guidelines. When we allow some flexibility, people are more likely to cooperate and put forth greater effort.

If we insist our children do something our way, stop and ask, “Why?” If we have simply pictured in our mind how we want it done, we can look for ways to offer choices within those limits.



Demanding obedience is a win/lose game. Both parent and child try to win, but eventually one or both lose. Ultimately, the relationship always loses. Cooperation finds win/win solutions. Parents and children work together to meet both their needs.

A Graduate’s Story. We were leaving to have our pictures taken and my four-year-old son was piddling around (as usual). I was late (as usual) and told him to get his shoes on so we could go. He started into this long explanation, “I want to wear my old shoes in the car and then change when we get there and have my pictures taken with my new shoes, then change into my old shoes again . . .” I was too impatient to listen and didn’t want to be tying shoes all day, so I said, “Pick a pair of shoes and put them on; you can’t keep changing shoes all day.” He started his litany again, and I completely lost my patience and said, “Just get your shoes on, NOW!”

This, of course, caused the tears to flow and he tried again to explain. “Mom, they’re my feet, and I don’t tell you what shoes to wear. Why can’t I wear what I want to wear?” I took a deep breath, thought about it, and said, “You’re right, they are your feet, and you can choose whichever shoes you want. I will tie your shoes once. If you decide to change shoes, you will need to either wear them untied or choose your Velcro shoes.”

He put his tie shoes in his bag and his velcro shoes on his feet. On the way he explained to me that he didn’t want his new tie shoes to get dirty and that’s why he wanted to change into them at the studio. He actually had a very good reason for the whole thing! I “won,” because I didn’t have to tie shoes more than once and he “won,” because he could wear the shoes he wanted for his photos. When I focus on win/win solutions, I often prevent power struggles and long negotiations.


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Demanding obedience sometimes works in the short run, but it usually breeds resistance. We can punish or overpower children until they obey orders, but eventually children become discouraged. They either give up or fight back. Most importantly, children obey out of fear, not because they want to cooperate or understand the value of the request.

Cooperation, on the other hand, is effective in both the short and long run. The short-term result is more helpful behavior with less resistance and fewer power struggles. In the long run, it promotes an atmosphere of teamwork and self-responsibility. Children become self-disciplined, because they understand the value of rules and requests and feel their contributions are important.



Some professionals advise parents to say “Because I said so” or “Because I’m an adult and you are a child.” While parents get their way by pulling rank, children do not learn to think for themselves. This type of power play might cut off a child’s disagreement—but undermines healthy long-term parenting goals. The most competent way to handle a situation is not always the easiest or quickest route!

Many parents were taught as children to obey anyone in authority. In today’s society, it is not safe for children to do something just because someone in authority tells them to. We’ve all heard about authority figures who have victimized children by using their position to gain children’s trust and obedience. These abusers often succeed because adults and children are less likely to question people in authority.

Demanding obedience usually results in one of these outcomes: children either rebel or become submissive. Submissive teens often seek out peer leaders to guide them—and may not choose their leaders wisely. Clique and gang leaders try to impress others with their power and popularity. Teens who feel rejected, lost, or powerless often seek membership in these peer groups to gain acceptance and a sense of power. Children who feel unconditionally loved and accepted by their families and already have some power in their lives are less likely to join these negative peer groups.

Today, children need to judge whether they should obey a request, rather than the person giving the order. It is important for children to treat all people with respect (adults and children) and cautiously obey orders. A balanced parenting style helps children find the value behind requests, so they want to cooperate more. They seek win/win solutions that respect everyone’s needs. If children need to refuse a request to protect themselves, they learn to do so assertively and respectfully.







Rigid limits with few or no choices.


Some choices within reasonable limits.



Superior parent gives orders to an inferior child.


Team theme—work together and each person’s role is important.



“My way or the highway.”


Children have some choice, such as when or how to do something.



Children obey out of fear.


Children understand the value of the request.



Children have to do what they are told.


Children are self-motivated to cooperate.



Win/Lose game.


Win/Win solution.



Short term—it sometimes works.


Short term—it almost always works.



Long term—creates resentment, rebellion, or blind obedience.


Long term—creates teamwork, self-responsibility, cooperation, and mutual respect.




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If we wait to see cooperation before we stop demanding obedience, we continue to see the results of ordering children around—resistance. If we change our attitude first, we begin to see other people’s attitudes and behavior change. The difficulty for most parents is taking the first step: adding choices or flexibility to their firm limits and rules—or simply wording our requests in more respectful terms. Many parents are surprised at how cooperative their children become when the children are no longer forced to obey.



I could fill an entire book of testimonials from parents who rave about the effectiveness of the Cooperation Toolset. Many parents begin seeing immediate changes in their attitudes and their children’s willingness to cooperate. The following story is similar to comments many parents make after learning the Cooperation tools.

A Graduate’s Story. As parents arrived for the Cooperation session, a young mother wiggled in her chair with a grin on her face. I asked the group if anyone had any success stories to share. The mother almost leaped out of her chair to tell the following story.

All day long I’ve been telling the people at work how anxious I was to come to class tonight. I could hardly wait to tell you about my week. You all have heard about my daughter and how headstrong she is. We argue day and night. Every time I ask her to do something, try to do anything for her, or tell her to stop something, we get into a power struggle. After I read the Cooperation Toolset, I started using the tools immediately.  Everything has changed! We haven’t had a single argument for five days and I’m still counting! Our whole home atmosphere is more peaceful. She’s more cooperative and I feel so much better about how I’m handling situations that used to lead to arguments.