Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Parenting Pointers: Raising Cooperative Kids - Proven Practices for a Connected, Happy Family

I recently had a chance to review Raising Cooperative Kids - Proven Practices for a Connected, Happy Family. This book looks at discipline from the view of cooperation - getting your kids to buy in to the family structure and encouraging a positive attitude while doing it.

The book uses principles and strategies that have been tested and developed over four decades of practice and trials. Not only are they good for reducing family conflicts, but they change unwanted behaviors and replace them with a more cooperative demeanor. There are general guidelines, as well as specific strategies for pinch points, like misbehavior and daily routines. It also (and I love this part) reminds parents of how important play is, being able to do fun activities as a family and just enjoy each others' company.

I have a chance to share an excerpt for you to learn more:

Raising Cooperative Kids – Excerpt “Clear Directions”
Adapted, and reprinted with permission from Conari Press an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, RAISING COOPERATIVE KIDS by Marion Forgatch PhD, Gerald Patterson PhD, and Tim Friend is available wherever books and ebooks are sold or directly from the publisher at or 800-423-7087.

Clear Directions 

Parents have different ways to get their children to comply. Many involve coercion, which essentially involves the use of psychological and even physical force to accomplish a goal. “You will do what I say or else! “Stress in our personal lives and in the workplace often ignites our use of coercion. Moreover, for better or worse, we tend to follow examples set by our own parents. If coercion reigned supreme in your family as you were growing up, you may find yourself using it with your own children and also your spouse or partner.

At one end of the spectrum, we’ve seen parents who command their children like boot-camp sergeants. They may resort to threats or, in extreme cases, even violence. At the other end, we have watched parents, determined not to follow in their authoritarian parents’ footsteps, plead with their children over something as simple as coming to dinner or shutting the door quietly. Neither approach is effective, as you may have discovered already. Commanding, debating, or pleading with children does not teach cooperation. What we have learned from watching parents and their children is that the most efficient approach is to give the child a clear, concise direction in a polite, emotionally neutral, tone. It sounds deceptively simple, doesn’t it? It is not.

We have developed a set of strategies for giving clear and effective directions that encourage cooperation. Here are our basic strategies.

Basic Strategies for Giving Clear Directions

  • Use good timing. 
  • Get physically close. 
  • Make contact (eye contact and/or physical contact).
  • Use a pleasant tone of voice and facial expression. 
  • Give one direction at a time. 
  • Make a statement—don’t ask. 
  • Be specific. 
  • Say what to do. 
  • Use the child’s name. 
  • Use the words “please” and “now.” 
  • Say: “Name, do (behavior) now, please.” (e.g., “Isabelle, come to the table, now please”). Use few words. 
  • Start with behaviors that take less than two minutes. 
  • Stand and hold silently (with a neutral to positive expression). 

This last point, stand and hold, requires that you remain close to your child after you deliver your direction and wait silently for their response. Parents say this is hard to do, especially maintaining a neutral facial expression while silently waiting. Try it and you will see how powerful your quiet presence can be. If you deliver your direction and walk away, you send the message that you may not expect immediate compliance.

Integrating these elements into the directions you give your children can produce amazing results—at least at first. The reward for the parent is compliance. It will come as no surprise that children who learn to follow their parents’ directions at an early age also tend to be socially successful with peers, teachers, and others in the community.

We are all guilty of reacting irritably, especially when stressed. Hostility, frustration, and anger are hallmarks of coercion. When you are upset and give these feelings free rein, promoting cooperation is virtually impossible. In stressful circumstances, calm down and ask yourself a few questions: What is my goal here? What do I really want? Do I just want to show my children how angry I am? Or do I want them to follow my direction? If your goal is simply to express irritability, let it rip. And then prepare for the aftermath.

Here’s an example that illustrates this point.
You come home from work tired, walk in the door, and there in the middle of the doorway lies an expensive jacket. Your immediate reaction is to lash out, and the one who happens to be there is the person who left the jacket. Do you give your beloved child a pleasant greeting? Or do you shout out: “What is that jacket doing in the middle of the floor? Do you know how much that cost? How many times do I have to tell you— hang your jacket in the closet!” Does your child—does any child—respond by quickly jumping up and hanging up the jacket, then giving you a smile and a big hug? Have you set the tone for a pleasant evening with your family? Probably not. Instead, the combination of jacket and shouts generates a flow of negative reverberations like the ripples created when tossing a stone into a calm pool of water. When it comes to telling your child to carry out this simple task, you tend to be irritated because the jacket should not have been in the middle of the floor in the first place.

Let’s rewind and consider another way to deal with the jacket.

On the way home from a stressful day at work, you are thinking about how nice it will be to have a pleasant evening with your family. You come into the house, your arms full, and you see your child’s jacket lying in a heap on the floor. Your child is slouched on the couch playing a video game. Of course you are irritated! However, you really would like to have a pleasant evening with your family. Your immediate reaction is to lash out. Try using the enhanced steps for giving clear directions below to design an alternative response that will set the stage for cooperation.

Enhanced Strategies for Giving Clear Directions

  • Prepare yourself. Stop what you’re doing and pay full attention to your direction. 
  • Get your child’s attention. Say your child’s name, get close, use eye contact, use touch (as appropriate). 
  • Say what you want the child to do. Saying what not to do omits the necessary information. “Put your jacket in the closet, now please.” vs. “Don’t leave your jacket in the hall.” 
  • Make it short and simple. Use the fewest words possible and make them easy to understand. 
  • Make a statement; don’t ask a question. Questions imply choice (e.g., “Pick up your jacket, now please.” vs. “How would you like to pick up your jacket?”) 
  • Pay attention to timing. Give directions at reasonable times (e.g., not five minutes before your child’s favorite TV program is finished). 
  • Be calm. When necessary, take time to become calm in face, voice, language, and body posture. Keep negative emotions under control. 
  • Be pleasant, polite, and respectful, but firm. Show that you expect cooperation in a firm yet positive manner (face, voice, language, and body posture). Use the word “please.” 
  • Don’t allow discussion. Simply repeat the same clear, short, polite direction. Arguing reinforces noncompliance. 
  • Give one direction at a time. More than one reduces cooperation. 
  • Give your child time to respond. Cooperation means getting started within ten seconds. 
  • Maintain contact. Stand and hold for ten seconds. After that, restate the direction using the same words and neutral-to-positive emotions. 
  • Follow through. 

When your child complies, praise the behavior with words, smiles, and positive gestures. Clear directions can have a profound effect on you and your entire family. Most parents require lots of practice to make clear directions a standard habit. It can be shockingly hard. If it were easy, we wouldn’t need this book or the years of research it took to figure this out! How you lead as a parent affects the way your child will follow. And, before you can change your child’s behavior, you may have to change your own. That’s right. We can’t expect our children to become cooperative unless we are skilled at being calm, clear, and polite in the face of chaos.

Think about how many steps are involved. First, when you saw the coat on the floor, you had to stifle the almost automatic (and actually quite natural) irritated reaction. If you allow yourself to react with anger, how do you think your child will react? And how will you then respond to that reaction? And then how likely is it that you will have a pleasant evening with your family? And, by the way, has the jacket been hung up? So, whether you like it or not, the first person you have to change is yourself.

In our decades of working with parents—and being parents—we have met few moms and dads who automatically knew how to deal with irritating situations. Our human reaction to a biting mosquito is to swat it. Most of us have no idea how often we go through the day swatting mosquitos. Learning to respond rather than react to life’s many irritants is a lesson in self-control that requires practice, practice, and more practice. Automatic negative reactions to pain can be replaced with responses that help you achieve your goals. In the situation above, the goals were a pleasant evening and the coat hung up.

Practice giving clear directions that involve simple actions and that can be accomplished in a minute or two—put your shoes away; close the door quietly; or put your backpack in your room now, please. Don’t start with cleaning up a catastrophically messy room or washing the dishes from Thanksgiving dinner. Another mistake parents commonly make is to give what we call “stop” directions: “Stop teasing your brother. “Don’t do that.” Instead, provide a direction for an alternative start-up behavior: “Bring in the mail now, please.” Parents who develop a habit of giving clear directions report that this simple step dramatically improves their children’s behavior.

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