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Ask the Parent Coach: Encouraging Cooperation by Tapping Into Your Child's Motivation

Published on: July 10, 2012

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Ask the Parent Coach: Jennifer Watanabe


Parenting tips for more cooperative kids

By Jennifer Watanabe

Over the last 15 years, one of the most common questions that I have been asked is “How do I get my child to ______________?” Just fill in the blank!

Whether it’s getting a child to get ready in the morning more quickly, do homework more readily and with more concentration, help out with chores, or just stop fighting with a sibling — parenting can sometimes feel like an uphill battle that defeats everyone.

But sometimes getting your children to do what you want means getting them to do what they want. I call this approach getting everyone to “row the boat in the same direction.” So how does a parent best tap into their child’s motivation?  Here are a few ideas.

Use the magic words. My favorite words when asking a child to do something are, “Let’s do this together.”  “Let’s” is one of those magic phrases, one that works with children ages 2 to 20.

Call a family meeting. If your child is 4 or older, consider using the family meeting technique suggested by Jane Nelson in her book Positive Discipline. Start with an agreed-upon agenda — for example, getting ready in the morning more quickly. Parents should ask their children what their view of the problem is, then ask them to brainstorm for solutions, and finally come to an agreement as a family on one idea to try for a week.

Cultivate a family spirit of problem-solving. When children become involved in finding a solution, they will be more likely to cooperate. The result is that everyone in the family becomes a problem-solver. Children growing up in this atmosphere feel respected and valued as a member of the family society. Nelson says that a sense of equitable involvement equates to cooperation.

Help kids learn to enjoy the task itself. In 2010, TIME magazine explored detailed research around this question of whether we should bribe our kids. The research found that kids seem to do best when they have direct control over the outcome and are rewarded quickly. The article also noted that the best reward happens when we teach children to “derive intrinsic pleasure from the task itself.” This may explain why the family meeting approach is an effective tool.

Use a gentle touch. Finally, in a research-based program called the Parent Management Training, Oregon Model, parents are advised to calmly ask for the completion of a task with a kind voice and a quick, gentle touch on the shoulder, and then monitor the child to see that the chore is completed. The children are then rewarded with privileges or a simple item.


Jennifer WatanabeJennifer Watanabe is the parent coach at Youth Eastside Services (YES). She teaches Positive Discipline classes and provides individual parent coaching. As a Certified Parent Coach, she has vast experience teaching parenting classes, using research-based information on child development, temperament, discipline, and emotion management. She specializes in helping parents who are longing for a better relationship with their children and who need a more effective way to discipline. Perhaps most importantly, Jennifer understands first-hand the issues parents face in our community.

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