Cooperation (n.): The process of working together to the same end. (Lexico.com)
Note that the above definition says nothing about authority, coercion, or following orders. Many children grow up hearing the word “cooperate” only in “because I said so” contexts, and understandably associate it with the implication, “You don’t count; you have no rights.” As adults, they can’t reach agreement in business, lawmaking, or international relations because everyone is obsessed with getting others to “cooperate” in the “do it my way” sense.
A much better approach to cooperation is one that considers everyone’s feelings and interests—and this begins with mutual goals. Even when the setting is a walk-up apartment and the cooperators are still in preschool.
Here’s how to create a home where everyone willingly cooperates in helping things run smoothly.
Know the Proper Approach to Enlisting Help Around the House
Proven ways to raise children’s resistance to the whole idea of household chores:
- When they’re little and eager to pitch in, tell them, “You’re too small/clumsy/slow,” and shoo them off so you can work interruption-free.
- Never ask them what they’d like to do; just assign them the chores you think they should do (or the ones you most want to get out of).
- Regularly interrupt whatever else they’re doing to demand that they jump up and give you a hand.
- Once they do start on chores, keep an eagle eye on them. The moment they start struggling or doing things differently from your proven approach, jump in to set them straight. Or just snatch the task away and do it yourself.
- Do everything yourself—including “straightening up” your children’s rooms without permission.
If you’d rather see your children willingly cooperate in keeping the house in order, give them a say in what they do when; let them master things by trial and error; respect their personal boundaries; and allow them the dignity of managing their own private spaces.
Make It a Shared Project
Everything—even dull routine chores—is more fun when done together. Rather than make a one-person job of sweeping or raking, hand the kids their own tools and invite them to join in. Chat or sing together as you work.
For a big project such as painting the spare room, schedule it as a family day and divide the tasks according to interest and ability. (Even a three-year-old can contribute ideas, watch for missed spots, or carry non-toxic supplies back and forth.)
This is one of the classic Habits of Highly Effective People, and should be a top priority in resolving family problems and disagreements. Rather than laying down the law or settling for a “compromise” that may leave everyone feeling shortchanged:
- Start by getting clear on what everyone really (Initial demands are often no more than perceived means to an end.)
- Pinpoint things that everyone’s “wants” have in common.
- Brainstorm end goals based on these mutual points of interest. Remember to let everyone contribute: the youngest participants often have the best ideas.
- Whatever the specific point of concern, always keep “lasting mutual goodwill” among your key goals. Shared ends—and all-around satisfaction with how those ends are achieved—are the true purpose of cooperation!
COOPERATION IN THE BEST SENSE
At Shady Oak, we believe that working together for mutual progress is essential for becoming effective contributors to society. Our program emphasizes group projects and collaborative learning—never competing for the best grades. If you’re looking for a child-centered primary school that encourages teamwork and relationships as part of education, contact us to learn more.
Blessings to parents and children of all ages!