Cooperation is a critical social skill

Most parents and teachers would agree that cooperation is a critical skill for life success that requires communication, empathy and respect.  Even young children can begin to learn simple ways to cooperate. Learning to use teamwork at home and in the classroom will eventually serve children well as adults. How can we best encourage cooperation?

 Here are  seven tips:

1.  Lead by example– This is the key strategy and probably the hardest one.  As the adult it is necessary to not only model cooperation but to teach cooperation.  This means taking advantage of teachable moments by pointing out the options and clearly indicating which ones will best serve everyone involved.  It also means demonstrating how you as an adult cooperate.  “Dad and I are going to work together to clean out the garage today.  You can help by putting your toys on the shelf.”

2.  Use language that children understand-Make sure that when you ask a child to do something they understand what you want and expect.  “Help us get ready for grandmother’s visit by cleaning your room” may mean different things to different children.  “Help us get ready for grandmother’s visit by putting all your toys in the toy box” will get better results.

3.  Play a game-Children often respond to requests when it is a game or a race.  “How quickly can you get dressed for school?  I’m going to time you!”  may be all it takes. Sometimes as adults we get so focused on getting a task done that we forget that we can improve the possibility of cooperation with very simple tactics that take very little effort.

4.  Allow choices– Children just like adults want to feel they have some control over their actions and giving choices is one way to do that.  “Today we need to clean the house.  Would you rather take out the trash or vacuum?”

5.  Catch them being good-Let a child know that you notice when he cooperates and point out the advantages of teamwork.  “Thanks for playing so nicely with your little brother.  He really enjoys it when you teach him new things!”

6.  Keep them guessing-– Sometimes children respond to the the challenge of being the one who knows the answer.  “Did I ask you to do something before you played?  I can’t remember…”  or ” I bet you don’t know how to put your pajamas on all by yourself… do you?”

7.  Let them lead— Encourage children to not only take initiative but to help in the planning as well:  “Today we need to clean the house. I bet you know the best way to plan and make it happen in record time.  What should we do first?  Who should do what?”

Developing the ability to work well in many diverse settings will serve kids well as adults.  How do you encourage cooperation?  I’d love to hear in the comment section!