4 Strategies to Get Your Child’s Cooperation

Mom whispering into the ear of a little girl

“You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

Certainly, you’ve heard the expression many times throughout your life. And why wouldn’t you? It’s absolutely true! But did you know the same idea can be applied to your children—not just flies?

“You get more cooperation by inviting than demanding.” 

In other words, when we use positivity and kindness to invite cooperation from our children rather than demand it, we find they are much more likely to comply with what we’ve asked.

Who wouldn’t want that?

Shifting Your Child’s Behavior from Battling to Cooperating

Despite the size difference, children are more like adults than we may think. And just as our  feathers get ruffled when someone “demands” or “commands” us to do something, children also get bent out of shape when we bark orders and constantly tell them what to do and how to do it. 

Let’s face it, whether you’re 4 or 40, no one wants to be bossed around!

But how will we, as parents, ever get anything done?

In fact, you may be thinking, “I’m the parent and it’s my responsibility to tell my kids what to do.” And that is true. You are the parent and you make the rules and sometimes kids simply must toe the line…because you said so. 

However, if we’re not careful, too much demanding, commanding and “because I said so-ing” will create more power struggles and battles than we ever bargained for. 

In fact, while the, “Because I said so!” strategy may have worked a generation or two ago, its effectiveness has waned considerably in today’s parenting world. 

Things are different now. Society is different. Families are different. And, most certainly, children are different. 

Today, we take a more democratic approach, where every member of the family is heard, valued, and respected.

No longer are we living by the old authoritarian household rules, where dad reigns supreme and everyone else listens without question. 

Just imagine, for a moment, how you would feel if your spouse or significant other demanded you “have dinner on the table by 6:00 p.m.!” My guess is you wouldn’t happily obey the request. In fact, you’d probably throw some eye rolls and expletives their direction just for good measure. 

At one point in time, mom may have been expected to blindly listen to and obey dad’s orders just as the children were. But today marriages are seen as partnerships. 

Children are no longer held to these old standards, either—both inside and outside of the home. In fact, the current education system also utilizes a democratic approach. Corporal punishment is a thing of the past, kids are spoken to respectfully, and they are even invited to participate in the learning process.

When we demand cooperation from our children by ordering, correcting, and directing, we evoke a natural fight or flight response. Unless your kids are set with transportation and flush with cash, they can’t easily flee—so the only option is to fight.

This is where backtalk, bad attitudes, and tantrums rear their ugly heads..

Alternatively, kids may choose a more passive fight and simply ignore your request altogether. 

Either way, the invitation for a power struggle has been sent and your child’s message is coming in loud and clear: You may think you’re the boss of me, but you’re not.

However, there is hope! From toddlers to teens, you can use the same strategies to get everyone working together.

What Can You Do to Get More Cooperation from Your Kids?

Whether you are new to positive parenting or a seasoned pro, there are things you can do to decrease the likelihood of power struggles and increase cooperation from your kids.

Parents who are enrolled in our online course learn 37+ Toolbox strategies to diffuse power struggles. In one blog article, I couldn’t possibly teach you everything you need to know. However, there are a few simple strategies to help you simmer down the overall temperature in your home and PREVENT a lot of battles from happening in the first place.

The strategies I am about to lay out are simple in concept yet remarkably effective when used correctly. They will help your child feel less “bossed around” which will prevent many of the battles from happening in the first place. You’ll love the sense of calm you feel when you can get things done without having to constantly nag, remind, and yell. 

Strategy #1: Invite Cooperation

Let’s think back to the earlier example of your spouse or significant other demanding your compliance in regards to having dinner ready. Even now, the thought alone may be enough to get your blood boiling. After all, who wants to be told what to do—especially in such a harsh and demanding way?

Believe it or not, your child feels the exact same way. 

Two of your child’s primary emotional needs are:

  1. To be spoken to respectfully and feel connected to the family unit. 
  2. To feel like he’s capable and making a difference.  

And this is precisely why an invitation is more effective than a demand.

Can’t you picture your child’s enthusiasm when he brings home an invitation to Jackson’s birthday party? Nothing feels better than being invited, included, thought of, and considered. 

By shifting our mentality from forcing compliance to inviting cooperation, we give our children the chance to exercise their free will—to contribute to the family on their terms, rather than being forced to do so.

Now I know you may be thinking this is the exact opposite of what you want as a parent. After all, shouldn’t your child respect you enough to do what you ask without question?

In theory, yes. But, no amount of demanding is going to make that any different—instead, it’ll just invite more power struggles.

You’ll be surprised to know that once you begin inviting cooperation instead of demanding it, you’ll start to see the cooperation you’ve been missing all along.

Nothing feels better than being, invited, included, thought of and considered.

So what does it look like to invite cooperation?

Consider for a moment, it’s summer vacation and you are getting ready to take your kids to the local pool for a nice family outing. However, before you go, you notice the kitchen is a mess from breakfast and needs to be cleaned. 

Without even thinking about it, you make your request.

“The kitchen is such a mess! You need to clean it before we can go to the pool.” 

And just like that, you’ve entered into that ordering, correcting, and directing territory. You look at your children and know you’ve lost them. Any cooperation they give you from this point out is bound to come with a fight.

This is where inviting them to cooperate comes into play. 

Instead, try “I have a ton of stuff to pack before we leave for the pool, so anything you can do to help in the kitchen would be really appreciated.”

Can you hear the difference in tone here? By simply altering the phrase from a command to an invitation to help the family, you remove any trigger for a fight from your child. 

They have the power to help without feeling coerced or forced into doing so. They also understand the sooner the kitchen gets cleaned, the sooner they can be making a splsh in the pool.

And lastly, you’ve let them know their help “would be appreciated.” Showing children appreciation for their contributions to the family helps meet their hard-wired needs to feel connected and significant to the family. 

Sound far-fetched?

Give it a try. You may be surprised just how willing your child is to help when this strategy is employed.

Strategy #2: Make an Observation

There is something to be said about the power of observation. Which is why I’ve included it as another approach to get your child’s cooperation. 

This strategy is so simple and yet incredibly effective because it removes any inadvertent accusation or judgment from the conversation.

It may be as simple as opening the fridge and saying, “The orange juice is still out.” 

Or, if you observe your child hasn’t completed a task they are responsible for, you can simply ask, “I’ve noticed the trash cans are still on the side of the house. What’s your plan for taking out the trash?”

In both situations, you aren’t accusing your child of wrongdoing—you’re simply observing what needs to get done.

Once you’ve made an observation, the ball is in their court—and you didn’t have to nag, yell, or repeatedly remind them.

Does this guarantee your child is going to comply perfectly right away? No. But over time they will start to understand the link between these observations and your tacit, yet kind, requests.

By shifting your approach from demanding to making an observation, you eliminate the chance of any hostility coming forward and open the gate for respectful collaboration to come through.

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Strategy #3: Leave a Note

Who doesn’t like a good old-fashioned thank you note?

There is something so satisfying about seeing even the smallest amount of appreciation and gratitude in written form. Which is why my third strategy for gaining your child’s cooperation is such a fun one.

Leave a note!

Like adults, children thrive when they feel appreciated. Not only does it help them feel connected to the family unit like we talked about earlier, but showing our gratitude for the things we’d like them to do is a great way to positively promote better cooperation.

Say, for instance, your son has a difficult time remembering to turn off lights when he leaves a room. Try placing a small, brightly-colored sticky note next to each of the light switches that says, “Thanks for turning off the lights before you leave the room.”

Not only is this a non-threatening way of reminding your child to do something, but the added “thank you” in advance is a wonderfully proactive approach to shifting their behavior from that battling mindset to one of true cooperation. 

Plus, it feels pretty good for you, too!

Strategy #4: Use “I Feel” Statements

One of the most powerful communication tools you can have in your arsenal—especially when it comes to making requests of your kids—is the “I feel” statement. 

Why?

Because it is one of the easiest and fastest ways to prevent your kids from getting defensive. When you share your personal feelings, it helps to sidestep any possible accusations in your tone, whether they be intentional or not.

Let’s consider a situation you may be all too familiar with. 

It’s the end of yet another long, hectic day and you want nothing more than to relax into a hot bath. You walk into the bathroom only to trip over your daughter’s dirty towel and clothes sitting in a pile on the floor. 

Immediately, frustration grabs onto you. Haven’t you told her time and time again to put her clothes in the hamper? 

Turning on your heel, you march into her room waiving a fistful of dirty laundry in the air.

“How many times do I have to tell you not to leave your clothes on the bathroom floor?” 

You didn’t mean to yell, but exasperation has you at the end of your rope. Unfortunately, your response was accusatory enough that it has now put your daughter on the defensive. 

She rolls her eyes and squares off, ready for a fight. Any chance of having an effective discussion on the matter quickly flies out the window.

Fortunately, there is a better approach.

Using an “I feel” statement is perfect for lessening the tension and shifting the focus from the DOER (your child) to YOUR personal feelings. 

Try this, for example:

“I feel disrespected when you leave your towels and clothes lying on the floor. It would really help me a lot if you would put them away when you’re done with them.” 

Now, doesn’t that feel so much more calming?

By shifting your focus away from her and what she did wrong, you bring the attention on yourself and how her actions made you feel. You will find this strategy not only helps to shift your child’s perspective on the situation but yours as well.

Final Thoughts

There you have it. Four simple, straightforward, and EFFECTIVE strategies for taking your child from battling to cooperating.

Using these strategies, you’ll be better prepared to tackle any cooperation struggles that may arise in the future. You can do it!

And for a more in-depth look at this issue and many others you will encounter on your parenthood journey, please be sure to look into other Positive Parenting Solutions resources.

To get you started, I’d love for you to JOIN ME FOR A FREE ONLINE CLASS where I’ll teach you how to get your kids to listen—no nagging, yelling, or reminding required.

As always, we are wishing you all the best on your parenting journey and would love to support you in any way we can!

About the Author

Amy McCready
Nationally recognized parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the best selling author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic - A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. As a “recovering yeller” and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor, Amy is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids. Amy is a TODAY Show contributor and has been featured on CBS This Morning, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, Rachael Ray, Steve Harvey & others. In her most important role, she is the proud mom of two amazing young men.