Cooperation or Resistance?
Three things are necessary in order for cooperation between people to happen.
Three Components of Cooperation
1. The individuals must have a common goal that they explicitly or implicitly agree to work toward.
2. In addition, they must perceive each other as having a certain degree of strength or power to contribute to the
undertaking. In other words, mutually perceived power is a necessary ingredient. Of course, this can include the power to make things go wrong, as well as the power to contribute to success.
3. Finally, they must have a certain amount of trust in each other, that they will not be taken advantage of, that the other(s) will carry their fair share of the load, etc.
When a parent and child are getting along well, they are “in harmony” with each other, cooperating with each other to achieve mutually shared goals. A goal might be just making the home run smoothly, or getting a certain task or job done, or having a good time on a trip.
The cooperating parent and child also trust each other to contribute their fair share, do what they say they will do, and be a team member.
They also perceive each other as having power–power to help things go well and succeed, or to make them go badly, to make the other(s) look good, or look bad.
Since children are so dependent and needy, it’s natural that they see their parents as having power over them.
Refusal to Cooperate
Parents need to see their children as having power, too. Children not only can contribute, but they can also refuse to contribute, or refuse to cooperate. They can make life miserable for parents in many, many ways. This gives them lots of power and most parents recognize this.
What parents sometimes fail to realize is that they themselves often give their children far too much power without realizing it. For example, if a parent believes they ought to be able to control a child’s behavior in public places, the parent is trying to do the impossible, and is setting self up for failure–and feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment.
A Recipe for Failure
Whenever a parent feels like they ought to be able to make a child do what they want, they are setting themself up for failure by trying to do the impossible
If a parent feels angry because they can’t get a child to tell the truth, or do a chore, or come home on time, then they are in all these cases giving their power to the child.
It’s as if the parent is saying, “My image of myself as a parent depends on you, on what you do, and whether you do what I want you to do.” This is a recipe for failure for two reasons.
■ The parent imagines that the child now has the power to make the parent feel good, look good, or think well of self. This is not true, of course, because only the parent can control their own self image.
■ The child will do what she wants to do–just as we all do. The child is motivated by thoughts and feelings she’s having when she acts, and these thoughts and feelings (not the parents’ words or wishes) determine what the child does.
Influence Is Not Control
A parent can influence a child’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior, but certainly cannot control them, and therefore shouldn’t even try.
Children resent being bossed around and told what to do–they are not robots or slaves, and inherently know they deserve to be treated with more respect. Parents will get more cooperation from a child if they accept this simple reality, treat the child respectfully, and make requests instead of giving orders.
What to Do When the Child Resists
Giving orders (bossing around) invites resistance. Making requests invites cooperation. Instead of setting yourself up for failure, you will do well to:
■ Be very aware that the child may or may not cooperate.
■ Acknowledge the child’s resistance (“I see you don’t want to do what I asked you to do”).
■ Do not take it personally if the child decides to not cooperate.
■ Express one of the following:
■ Clearly request what you want the child to do (“Please pick up your toys before going to bed”).
■ An “I-message”–“I’m disappointed, frustrated, upset, mad, irritated”
■ A choice – “Would you rather pick up the toys or have me put them away for a few days?”
The secret here is to recognize that the child alone has the power to cooperate or to resist and defy. You should never try to control that choice because it’s both impossible and disrespectful. You should always be prepared to acknowledge the child’s choice to not cooperate, and respond swiftly, clearly, consistently, and without angry malice.
3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model. Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.