Cooperation, a character trait connected to empathy, kindness, compassion, patience, respect, and self-control. It’s interesting how one character trait, strengthens or relies on another. Cooperation as a stand alone trait improves peer relationships, develops problem-solving skills, and builds self-confidence. In the classroom, as well as at home, a cooperative child is more prepared to learn, follows directions, and fulfills responsibilities. Here are three things to consider when developing cooperation in your child:
1. What your child needs to know about cooperation:
Help your child develop a positive attitude about being cooperative by highlighting what’s in it for them. Use real life examples to teach that cooperation is…
- reciprocal, the more they cooperate with others, the more others will cooperate with them
- a social skill that will help them make and keep friends
- necessary for accomplishing team/group goals
- an attitude AND a behavior.
- their unique way to add value to an outcome
- a way to resolve conflicts
2. How you – the parent – can nurture cooperation in your child:
As a parent, you are your child’s first and forever teacher and cooperation falls under one of many life lessons you will teach. Try these ideas when highlighting the importance of cooperation for your child:
- define what cooperation is (e.g. working together, helpful behaviors, team work)
- model cooperation alongside your child
- connect your child’s cooperative attitude or behavior to outcomes
- connect cooperation to your child’s feelings, positive or negative feelings depending on the level of cooperation
- acknowledge cooperation in others and highlight the results of others working together
- discuss real life situations your child experiences in which they can compare the differences between those who are cooperative vs. competitive
3. Activities that teach cooperation:
Kids are the most cooperative when they know they get something in return. We can lay the foundation for a cooperative attitude through fun activities that teach the benefits of cooperation. This is how we meet them where they are (e.g. responsive to FUN) to take them where we want them to be (e.g. cooperative attitudes and behaviors). Try these activities with your family or small group of kids.
Keep it in the air:
Get a beach ball, form a circle and work together to keep the ball in the air by hitting it back and forth to one another. Keep track of the number of hits the group takes before it hits the ground and try to get more and more hits. Have people come and go into the circle and talk about how that changes the level of cooperation between the group members.
Play with a parachute in different ways. Have someone step away from the parachute and encourage other members to “cooperate” to keep the parachute moving by picking up the slack of the person who left. Keep adding and taking away people holding onto the parachute. Help the kids understand how cooperation changes depending on the number of people holding on to the parachute. This promotes cooperation because it helps kids connect their individual value to the group goal of keeping the parachute moving.
Liven up the drudgery:
Kids’ brains thrive on novelty. Look for unique ways to do ordinary things to grab their attention and improve their cooperation. Once, my son’s cooperation was waning while cleaning a bathroom, so I got him started on making up a story. Before we knew it, he had finished his work and developed a piece of nonfiction. The next time you need your child to cooperate on a task that is less than enjoyable, liven it up by playing music, telling stories, breaking up tasks into manageable pieces, assigning jobs that kids are good at, and switching up who does what. Also, don’t forget to praise cooperation and show them how their efforts contributed to the outcome.
As parents, our hope is that our kids learn to be cooperative simply because it is the right thing to do, regardless of what is in it for them. Developing cooperation is an ongoing process that grows as your child grows. With encouragement and teaching from parents, a child of character will internalize the value of being cooperative, and this will be evident in his attitude and behavior.
We’d love for you to share any family activities you have found effective for encouraging cooperation in your children.