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Cooperative Discipline (or how to keep your kids in line, without going crazy in the process)

Updated on March 15, 2015

Dealing with an uncooperative child (or children) is one of the biggest headaches that parents have to deal with. Single parents (or parents where the other spouse if often off working, or deployed) are especially vulnerable to becoming overwhelmed when dealing with an uncooperative child. I will be somewhat general in this article but will have other articles that are more specific to individual situations such as toddlers, single parents, older kids, multiple children, blended families and such. As a parent, grandparent and former elementary school teacher, I have pretty much dealt with it all, even with 30 kids at a time, with no real issues.

When you have 2 parents dealing with a single child, the situation is usually quite easy to handle. You have the child outnumbered, and you and your spouse have each other for backup, or you can relieve each other. But when you are a single parent, or you are a 2 parent household with two or more children, you may start to feel you are no match for the endless energy that a child has. Multiply that by a few children and it is no wonder that parents can feel outnumbered, surrounded and in a losing battle. But never surrender!

Cooperative discipline works because it doesn't involve turning issues into a parent vs. child battle. It involves including your child in the process of getting things done. It is not “parent against child” – it is everyone all together, working to the same goals. It means telling your child what you need them to do (and possibly why it needs to be done). Then you can present them with the possible choices or behaviors and the consequences of each of those situations.

Okay, I know by now some parents are going "yeah right, try that with a screaming toddler" or "I have already told my child many times what to do, how to do and what I was going to do if they didn't do it". Stay with me though, keep reading and you will see where it gives you the power and can deflate your child’s resistance to what you need/want them to do. It's not instantly successful but a process that you need to stay firm with. It is a mindset that you need to get into and to instill in your kids also. Consider them the Jedi Mind Tricks of the parenting world.

Some" Don't"s of Cooperative Discipline

Don’t get visibly frustrated, don’t yell, and don’t engage in endless debates, battles or lectures. Don’t waste your energy on that. Don't be the audience to your child's tantrums. In other words, don't give them that power over you. Don't allow them to see that their behavior affects you or changes your position on things. It takes a lot of the wind out of their sails when they see that their tantrums or acting out doesn't affect you in anyway (but will have consequences on THEM).

Don't fall into the trap of bribing your child. Bribery leads them to believe that they have power over you, or they have leverage. Of course there can be rewards for good behavior and cooperation but those rewards are simply the natural consequences of their cooperation, and of their decision to make good choices. You present them with your expectations and how they can meet your expectations and how it benefits them. You should also let them know what they poor choices are and how that has negative consequences. Let them know how their choices affect everyone else.

Some "Do"s of Cooperative Discipline

Cooperative discipline isn't heavy on strict discipline. The key is cooperation and that comes about by including the children in the things that it takes to run your family. It mean having discussions about how things work, in your family, in your life as an adult/parent (you most certainly do NOT get to do whatever you want when you are an adult) and the world in general.

Children need to know that EVERYONE has rules and laws that they live by. There will always be rules to deal with, whether they are in your home, at school, the workplace as an adult or in the real world. Even without laws, there are still things we cannot do because of the negative consequences. We ALL have limits in life as to what we can do. We all have choices to make about what we want and what we can do to accomplish that goal. The sooner your children understand this, the better off they will be.

So have discussions with your kids about how things work. These should truly be discussions, not lectures. They are not a tangent you need to go off on when annoyed. They are simply a part of life, friendly conversation with kids and you will be surprised at all of the teachable moments that are available if you just keep an open eye and have a willingness to use that experience to teach your children. You can point out to kids that even as a grown up, you still have to obey laws, your employer, police, judges, etc.

Talk, Talk, Talk

Cooperative discipline is about raising a child that you can talk to, not one that you have to yell at, punish, threaten, bribe or instill fear in. The “punishment” in cooperative discipline usually falls under the category of the negative consequences of poor choices. Such negative consequences should be logical and related to the bad behavior or poor choice.

This is why discussions and conversations are so important. You are giving them all the information they need to make the right choices, along with the possible consequences they will face if they choose to make a poor choice. Then you have to have enough patience to allow them to make some bad choices, just so they can see the natural consequences of their choices. Don’t be afraid to tell them of poor choices that you once made and what the consequences were. No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes but the important thing is to learn from it and not make the same poor choices over and over.

You are teaching your children to be responsible for their own behavior. You are no longer in the role as the big meanie who tells everyone what to do. Consequences for poor choices are a part of life for everyone so it is wise to raise your kids to understand that early on in life. You should also make sure they know how their negative choices affect others. They need not feel like they have it so bad, there is always someone else worse off than them.

Basically you can tell them that "you can learn the hard way or the easy way". The easy way is to listen to what you are being told, learn from other's bad mistakes and experiences, then make good choices. Learning the” hard way” is to ignore what you are being told, ignore what you have seen when others make a bad choice and then decide to make a bad choice anyway. That bad choice comes with bad consequences. Whether they what to do it the easy way or the hard way, it is all up to them. You have to allow them to make some bad choices though, and not try to rescue them or baby them. If they were aware of the consequences and chose to do something anyway, then they basically chose the consequences, so let them deal with it.

The bottom line is that cooperative discipline prepares your child for life and the bigger world beyond your home. It helps them be better students in school, to develop a work ethic, to not be self-centered and a better person all around. And yes, of course, it also makes a parent's life so much easier.


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