Moving from Obedience to Cooperation
Updated: Jul 12, 2019
3 questions to ask yourself when it comes to raising obedient children:
Is my goal to raise obedient children?
One of the most common complaints from parents that seek out my services in Tulsa and throughout the country is that there children don’t obey them.
Obedience is something many parents expect from children from 2 yrs old all the way into adulthood. Typically, what they mean is that their child doesn’t instantly comply with their requests or demands. This can be very frustrating for any parent if the expectation is instant compliance.
I can definitely relate to the desire to want my kids to respond quickly and obediently, but then I started wondering if this is healthy in a relationship. I don’t expect this of my wife because I see her as different than me. I see and respect her as an individual human with her own thoughts, ideas, desires, and opinions. These differences are actually the strength of our relationship.
I also noticed that when many parents are demanding obedience from their child it sets up an oppositional stance. The child is put in a position where he has to set aside his own autonomy and embrace compliance or be seen as disrespectful and rebellious.
This can lead to a child being applauded for being passive rather than assertive. It can teach the child that his wants and desires are always less important than his parents. In this kind of relationship he doesn’t learn how to articulate and express what he thinks and feels. I am not sure that this prepares him for life as a successful adult.
I wouldn’t want my child to work for a boss that demanded obedience in the work place. I would want him to work for a boss that valued his insight and invited his perspective. The best bosses I ever had were ones that didn’t want me to be the miniature versions of him/herself. They wanted me to express my thoughts and opinions because they felt I added something to the decision making process.
This is why I teach parents to work towards cooperation, participation, and collaboration. These three words imply us doing something together. It is an invitation towards mutual growth in the relationship.
What would happen if I shifted my focus towards cooperation and participation?
"What you focus on you will get more of." This is a quote I learned from Dr. Becky Bailey in her approach called Conscious Discipline. She taught me that it is important to notice where I place my focus because that is where I will lead my child.
In my experience, when parents place a strong emphasis on their child being obedient they become hyper vigilant towards any type of perceived disobedience. Many times this looks like “back talk”, having a different perspective, proposing other options, or even pausing to think and not responding as quickly as the parent would like.
When this begins to happen, the only action that becomes acceptable is the child quickly responding and doing exactly what the parent has asked. This kind of interaction also tends to be predicated on the parent feeling rushed or anxious trying to do something in a quick and efficient manner.
The parent is hoping their child will help alleviate their panic or frustration by just falling in line and dong what they are told. When the child does this it is a relief to the parent, but when they don’t it exasperates the feelings of anxiety and frustration already bubbling up in the parent.
Many times this will lead to the parent lecturing their child for being disobedient. This can cause a dance that slowly begins to feel very toxic and controlling. The parent needs to shift their focus or they will become more demanding and rigid. This can eventually cause a large strain on the relationship with their child.
Why move away from demanding obedience to inviting cooperation?
What can a parent do when they have asked their child to do something and they are met with resistance or defiance? Neuroscientist Dr. Dan Siegel describes this type of behavior as chaotic and rigid.
When I first encountered this in my children I noticed it triggered in me something that mirrored the chaos and rigidity. It became a battle of wills and who would get their way.
Flexibility was not even a thought in my mind because fear would tell me I need to take a stand. I remember sitting in a restaurant parking lot with my then 2-yr-old son demanding that he let me unbuckle his car seat. He told me he wanted his mom to unbuckle him and I saw that as a challenge to my power. My wife and daughter went into the restaurant and I told him that I can wait as long as I have to. Eventually, he gave up and I saw that as a victory.
All that really happened was I met his chaotic and rigid behavior with my own chaotic and rigid behavior. I only won that contest because I was almost 5 ft taller than him. It was moments like this that made me realize I need to move away from demanding obedience and instant compliance.
Dr. Siegel says we do that through differentiation and linkage. We must first respect that our child is not us and can think and desire other things than we do. Once I respect that they are not me I can then invite them into participating with me and cooperating with me. This is what he calls linkage.
I can do this through humor, empathy, a creative story, etc. This made such a large change in my relationship with all of my children. It helped me shift away from being demanding and controlling of my child’s behavior.
It empowered me to see my child as a fellow human instead of an animal (it is no coincidence that people take their dog’s to obedience school). It also helped me be more creative in how I invited my children into cooperating with me to accomplish a task.
This then helped my wife and I create a home environment that modeled how to collaborate. It also gave us a lot of opportunities to show our kids how to express their thoughts and opinions in healthier ways. It helped all of us start seeing the beautiful differences that each person brings to the family and work towards collaborative solutions when there was conflict.
We want them to believe their thoughts and feelings matter and know how to constructively use them to link with others around them. This leads to resolving conflicts in a collaborative and cooperative fashion.