Wherever there are two or more people gathered, there can be a difference in opinion. How we handle the differences is important and an amazing thing to observe. Cooperation is a cornerstone for living in a civilized society and part of a parent’s job is ‘civilizing’ or ‘socializing’ the children. It integrates and demonstrates respect for others as equals.
Some of us are too concerned with taking care of ourselves. Others don’t practice self-care and may end up as door mats. Both of these are rooted in what we learned when we were very young. You can save your child years of difficulty by encouraging the give and take needed in a healthy family.
I met Melanie when I was ten. She came to the door of our house and said she’d heard a girl her age had just moved into the house. Very true, I am one day younger than Melanie! We were close all the way through high school, worked at the same part-time job our junior and senior years, and stay close friends today even though we live more than 1,500 miles away from one another.
But, as youngsters, we disagreed quite a bit. And if one of us didn’t want to cooperate with the other, we’d argue or turn a cold shoulder. At least I, maybe Mel too, had already learned selfishness as self-preservation. I hadn’t yet learned how to settle the differences between us.
Today, I am in awe of my daughter and Sabrina, her best friend since first grade. (They are currently 25 years old.) Both girls were shy and their teacher thought they might do well together. Wow! Did they ever! These girls were practically like two peas in a pod and they benefitted greatly from one another’s company! And still they just plain ‘get along’ with each other. Perhaps it’s just that they are SO alike. Maybe it’s because they’d learned respect. Maybe it’s because they had both learned to trust, take turns and to cooperate.
Humans are born with the desire to relate with one another. By fostering an infant’s desire to relate and to be happy together, you will raise a child who trusts. Stemming from that trust, your child will enjoy cooperating.
First, your child needs to have his/her needs met. The infant learns from this that you care to remove the source of discomfort or distress. A new-born almost certainly needs your attention when s/he cries. The new-born can’t resolve difficulties alone; your assistance is needed. By responding to your infant quickly, you teach your child to trust you. When your child trusts you, your child will be more likely to cooperate with adult requests.
Even at an age between six and twelve months, your child can be guided to share and cooperate by being placed on a blanket on the floor with toys. It there’s a second child, sometimes two of the same toy is helpful. Letting the children lie on their tummies and trade off and watch each other in ‘parallel play’ is one way of encouraging it. I’m the type who will lie of the floor and play in parallel, trying to engage the infant.
By the time your child becomes a toddler, if you’ve been trustworthy, you’ll find your child likes to copy what you do. Share toys and items with your child. Invite your toddler to help you put things away after playing, “We need to clean up the toys and then we can have lunch. Do you think you can carry this to the toy-box and I’ll get the ball and the elephant?”. Expect cooperation. You’ll probably get it! That said, toddlers continue to be governed by their physical states: an hungry or tired tot doesn’t have the energy to cooperate. So, choose your times wisely!
Three year olds are more independent. So, if you’re starting with a child who is already this age, be prepared to occasionally see a lack of cooperation. It’s no cause for concern on your part; it’s actually a good sign that your child is beginning to know that you are two individuals. Be patient and in a few minutes try again to make a game out of the task. Working puzzles together or rolling a ball are effective ways to start, especially if your child has chooses the activity.
When you cooperate with your child, you’re demonstrating the behavior you want to see. Modeling is the strongest teacher for children. When my children were school age, we’d make a game out of putting clean laundry in the proper drawers. First, we’d have a ‘sock-athon’ in which we’d see who could find the most pairs. The other child and I would clap for the winner. Then the socks and underwear would get sorted, “Who wears these socks? Whose under-roos are these?” Finally, we’d take all of Chris’ to his room and put them away, then all of Katie’s to her room and put them away, then to my room to put mine away. There was always a lot of giggling when I tried to put my underwear in their drawers. This was one of the ways in which I helped my children understand that we all have responsibilities.
Talk your children through the process of cooperation. Explain why they need to work with you or help each other out. When my pre-schooler and one-year old started to fight over something instead of sharing, I’d sing the song from Sesame Street. They soon both knew that cooperation means working together and helping each other out. There’s solid reasons for cooperation and it’s amazing how early children can grasp the concept and put it into practice.
Pointing out examples of others cooperating, reinforces that the practice of cooperation is well-accepted; it’s the norm in our society. And a respectful parent uses the words please and thank you with the child, or at least doesn’t order the child around without using good manners.
I continued to find ways to help my children cooperate and become responsible. When they were ages of nine and six; my children each had one night each week on which to plan dinner and helped to prepare it. Chris ‘cooked’ on Wednesday and Katie was in charge of Thursday. Each would decide what we would have for dinner and get it out of the freezer and to thaw it in the microwave, if necessary. Dinner needed to include a protein, a starch and at least a fruit or vegetable. It could be more, but those three were basic.
Chris was ready at that age to take on oven-fried chicken, with my assistance putting the pan in the oven and taking it out. Thawing three boneless, skinless breasts then shaking them in cornflake crumbs was fun for him. We’d add french fries from a bag or I’d slice potatoes and cook them the same way as the chicken. With broccoli or green beans, the kids were happy.
Katie liked ‘picnics’ at first. Cheese and crackers with apples delighted her, and required no knives or stoves/ovens. The same was true for any pre-sliced meat from the deli or a left-over meat that I sliced. Katie also was a fan of pastas. Tortellini or ravioli with pesto made her happy and served with spinach or carrots, we had a good meal.
Again I remind you, children raised to be cooperative succeed in pre-school, social situations and their entire lives. It’s one of the habits that makes people like-able. Most adults agree they like to be asked to help others. We like to be needed. If they hadn’t learned cooperation, that simply wouldn’t be the case.