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How to Create an Attitude of Cooperation

Having been a parent educator and a PBS consultant for Ready to Learn for many years, I have had the unique opportunity to work with Head Start families, Child Care Providers, and parents as well as schools, organizations, and teachers all over the world just like you.


Every one of us is teaching the next generation, whether we want to or not. Those of us who care deeply about the children in our circle of influence need to teach those values, ethics, and standards that will help them to live successful and happy lives. Now, more than any other time in history, it is important to be a mindful parent. That means paying attention to what is going on in the daily lives of our children.

There is no greater calling than to be a teacher, and there are no greater teachers than parents and extended family. If we remember that the ultimate goal in getting our kids to help at home is to teach them good work habits, rather than just to get the family room picked up before we go crazy, we approach the task from a better perspective. We will not be approaching tasks in a labor/management, master/slave or leader/follower manner as much as we will be modeling the more respectful roles of teacher/pupil. We have experiences to share with our children. We care about their character formation, their skill development, and their general happiness more than any one else in the world.


Ideally, our homes should be like apprentice shops, where our children work by our sides and learn the life skills they need to be successful, contributing adults. We want to create an atmosphere where mutual respect and support are inherent and people learn to self-manage. As teachers, we do need to discipline and guide the actions and character development until the individuals can learn and practice self-discipline The word discipline, as defined in Webster's dictionary, means learning or knowledge, the training that develops self-control, character, orderliness, and efficiency. The root word of discipline is disciple, which means a student or follower of another. It does not mean punishment or fear.

As parents, we are challenged to walk in such a way that those who follow us learn to discipline themselves- wherever they go, whatever they do, and no matter how old they become. The seeds of good judgment, thoughtful consideration for others and self-reliance in all areas of daily family life are most easily planted during a child's pre-school years. These can then be reinforced every day until they leave home. However, it is never too late to start teaching these lessons if we have not taken or had the opportunity when they were younger.


So often we do unconscious parenting, just getting through the day. It is not that we don't love our family; it is just that the love sometimes gets lost in translation through poor communications or unskillful methods. I would like to challenge you to be more conscious of how your words and actions affect your children. By changing the family's attitude into one of positive expectancy rather than anticipation of negative outcomes, you make the atmosphere more pleasant and welcoming to everyone. Hopefully you will find some techniques here that will assist you in your efforts to have a more cooperative and harmonious home.

It is the responsibility of parents and extended families to teach our children how to succeed in life as contributing members of society. Schools, churches, Girl Scouts, YMCA, and other youth organizations can only supplement the lessons children receive at home. Too many children today are not being taught basic lessons of character by parents but are learning by osmosis through TV. It is time to unplug the TV (or limit the viewing, to a number equal to hours spent reading or restricted to just on the weekends) and plug our families into each other.


I always encourage parents to look down the road fifteen years to the adult, instead of right now at the child who is balking at unloading the dishwasher. Yes, it would be easier on you just to put the dishes away yourself, but what does your child learn when you do his chores for him? Almost all learning is accomplished through trial and error, or the natural or logical consequence of actions.

If we as parents step in and prevent the error or consequence, we have just prevented the learning. We all need to be able to make mistakes and errors in judgment in order to learn what works and what doesn't. This is how we fine tune our skills and master the tasks at hand. We do our children a grave disservice by stepping in to save them, unless it is a matter of safety. We need to work together as a family unit, in a supportive but non-interfering way, to learn new skills and head toward the goal of independent, successful and harmonious lives.

In the next few minutes, as you read this book, you will find two different and distinct components of responsibility: outward and inward.

1. Outward responsibility deals with everyday life skills such as doing chores, brushing teeth, returning videos on time, and feeding the dog. Each family has its own list of what they consider important, so we will not discuss particular tasks. Rather, we want you to focus on nurturing a positive attitude and good habits in your children - habits that will help them to be productive and reliable.

2. Inward responsibility deals with attitudes, beliefs, and values. Being inwardly responsible means admitting mistakes, treating others as you would like to be treated, being unselfish, and caring about other people's health, property and feelings. We frequently get bogged down with the frustration of dirty rooms and forget about more important factors like inward motivation. Effective discipline is setting reasonable limits on our children at different developmental stages but giving them choices so they can learn to form their own opinions. Our goal is to help them become self-disciplined and to learn to think and problem solve without asking or being told what to do in every situation.

Aptitude and competence or the ability to accomplish a task is not nearly as important and vital to a happy life as attitude and confidence. This is the area where we help our children build self-esteem, problem solving skills, a can-do outlook, and positive expectations toward life. A cooperative environment is one where everyone in the family wins; there are no losers. By learning to support and assist each other in small daily tasks, we set the stage for encouragement and a willingness to become self-reliant.

Good luck. As a word of encouragement, I have to tell you that, of our grown children, the ones who were the messiest as kids are the neatest as adults! Hang in there; there is hope for the future.

Now, here we go--some great ideas and suggestions from families just like yours who have learned to pitch in and make the work go faster. I am sure you will enjoy what the kids confided to me about being responsible and helping. They are the real experts.

Judy H. Wright, Parent Educator ? 2005 www.ArtichokePress.com

This article has been written by Judy H. Wright, a parent educator and PBS consultant. You will find a full listing of books, tele-classes, and workshops listed at www.ArtichokePress.com. You have permission to use the article providing full credit is given to author. She may be contacted at 406-549-9813 or JudyWright@ArtichokePress.com

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