4 Simple Ways to Build Cooperation with Your Children

As parents, we teach our children to help around the house, to become part of the household, to cooperate with chores. When we successfully involve our children in “running the household,” they develop a growing sense of value, purpose, and competence (If your children don’t know, send them this letter: Dear Children, The Real Reason I Make You Do Chores). In spite of these benefits and all our good intentions, our children rarely say, “Oh cool. Thanks for the work. I love it.” Right? They often respond with complaining, grumbling, some odd body movement or facial expression that elevates us to a surprising level of agitation, or slamming things around. It gets old quick. So, when I can find any hints to help build cooperation, I “swoop ’em up.”  The more options we have as parents, the better off we are. The more tools we own, the more problems we can fix. With that in mind, here are 4 tools to help increase your children’s cooperation around the house.

Give choices. Choices empower our children. Choices also maintain parental authority. What kind of choices can you give?

  • Our children can choose what they’d like to do to help. For instance, “Would you like to set the table for dinner or pour the drinks?” Or, “We have to clean up before our guests arrive. Do you want to clean the tub or run the vacuum?” “Would you rather take a bath or a shower tonight?” 
  • At times, our children can choose the timing of their cooperation. For instance, “Do you want to take a bath before eating your snack or after your snack?” “Would you rather cut the grass today or tomorrow?”
  • They can help make family decisions with their choices. “Would you rather have green beans or corn with dinner tonight?” “Would you rather go to the library today and museum next week or the museum today and the library next week?” You can even include your children in the choice vacation places and times. “We have to decide between camping at the ocean or by the lake. Which do you want to do?” Just be sure you’re willing to take their input seriously.
  • Children can also make choices about clothing and styles. “Do you want to wear this red shirt or the blue one tomorrow?” “Which swimsuit do you want to take to the party?”

Offer a carrot not an ultimatum. Offering a carrot involves the promise of a more enjoyable and preferred activity after the chore is done. For instance, “We’ll head to the park and get some ice cream as soon as your room is cleaned up.” “I’ll get the movie ready and, as soon as you’re done taking out the garbage, we’ll start watching it.” Notice the carrot is offered as an incentive rather than used as a threat of what they might lose. Incentives are kinder than threats. Incentives build cooperation; threats and ultimatums build walls and elicit anger. Offer a carrot.

Be specific with your requests. Let your children know “how many,” “how much,” and “how long.” “Bring the towels to the laundry” may result in them bringing 2 of the 5 dirty towels you wanted followed by them complaining when you telling them to go back for the rest. Start off with a more specific request, “Bring all the dirty towels to the laundry. There are at least 5 of them.” Or, “I need your help for about 15 minutes. Then you’re free to go.” “We need to wash the dishes. It will take about 20 minutes then you can meet your friends.” This specificity gives an end in sight and helps them focus for the time needed to complete the task.      

Be polite.  Everyone is more willing to cooperate when asked politely. Aren’t you? And, your politeness models politeness for your children. Be as polite to your children as you want them to be toward you. It’s a two-way street starting with your politeness toward them. (Read Children: Jesus in the House for more on this 2-way street of politeness.)

Give choices. Offer carrots rather than ultimatums. Be specific in your requests. Be polite. Do these 4 things and you will experience a whole new level of cooperation coming from your children!

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