Cooperation or Compliance

Frequently, I hear parents complain about how their child refuses to cooperate. One can almost see the anger and frustration wafting off of these parents in regard to their children, children whom they love, whom they currently view as defiant and disrespectful. I understand. Really, I do. There are times when I am really frustrated with my children, or at least our current situation. I am not a parenting guru. This is the point where I say that if anyone ever refers to themself as a parenting guru, you should walk away…slowly, avoiding eye contact, until you feel you are at a safe enough distance to turn and run. Certainly, there are people dedicated to researching child pysychology, realtionships, communication, and so on, who may very well be experts in their field. That is different than a guru, but I digress.

The fact is that I have never met a child, one who was healthily connected and had all needs met, who wasn’t willing to cooperate with a loved one. Yes, I actually said never. “But Mandy,” you say. “You have never met my child.” That may be true. “But Mandy,” you say. “You have met my child.” That may also be true, depending on who you are and who your child is. I stand by my statement, though. As much as we may like to think of our children as unique little snowflakes, there are some things which are just human nature. Working together is a fundamental survival skill.

So that brings us to two points. If your child is, in fact, not cooperating, I challenge you to ask yourself why. People, children included, don’t do anything without reason. We may not always examine our reasons, or perhaps we don’t recognize the reasons, but they exist none-the-less. Is your child feeling connected with you? If not, maybe they need to spend more, or more mindful, time with you. Are all of their needs being fully met? If not, rectify that. Make certain your child’s needs are met. If there is a want mingling in there, explore a little more and see what underlying need is behind the want. You can’t help fix a problem if you don’t know what the true problem is.

Secondly, and one that frequently casts a shadow to the forefront, is that the parent is confusing a lack of compliance with cooperation. When many parents say their child is not cooperating, what they really mean is that their child is being non-compliant, i.e. the child is not doing what the parent wants.  Again, I challenge you to ask yourself why. Except, this time, I challenge you to look at yourself. Are you feeling connected with your child? Are all of your needs being met? As a parent, if is often easy to overlook our own needs, but that can actually be detrimental to our families. We aren’t functioning at our best when we have needs being left unmet.

Of course, the other scenario is a compilation of the two. Perhaps neither the parent nor the child is feeling connected. Perhaps everyone has needs which aren’t being met. If one person has unmet needs, it isn’t so far-fetched to think that an underlying cause may be preventing other family members from having their needs met, too. Regardless of what is going on, let go of the negative thoughts and instead, take a second to mentally explore options, connect or meet needs, andcommunicate with your child. They may just have some ideas to help everyone out.

photo credit: mcdlee via photopin cc

compliance in dangerous situations…

As parents, we would love to believe that the world is a safe place for our children to explore and learn. Generally, that is true. However, there are certain dangers out there – some which are merely things our children haven’t encountered and learned about yet and some that are lurking in wait. Because of these things, there are times when we genuinely need our children to listen to us right that second and to comply with what we say.

One method to ensure this, and one that many parents attempt to use, is with total compliance. If our children immediately comply with our requests every single time, then we have no fear that they might not do so in a situation involving danger. If you ignore the fact that this takes away our children’s free will, the idea may sound great in theory. One word from us, and our children are protected. The problem with total compliance is that it doesn’t exist. Adults are not 100% compliant. Add to that the fact that children have not mastered impulse control (which could also be said about adults), and you have a very unpredictable situation.

The approach my husband and I have taken is to explain our reasoning for things. We don’t make blind requests and expect our children to immediately comply. We explain the reasoning behind our requests in order that they might learn. We also listen to our children when they present their points of views and reasoning.

Because of this, we have built a bond of trust with our children. They know that we will not make requests without reasons, as we take the time to explain our reasoning. When they hear us say something without giving an immediate reason, they understand that we do have a reason and that it must be important.

We take the time to explain to our toddlers about hot pans and what might happen if they touch a hot pan. Later, if we see them reaching for a hot pan, we can quickly say “hot!” and they stop, giving us that time to scoop them up and explain that we saw they were about to touch a hot pan and that we didn’t want them to get hurt. When my five year old was caught up in the excitement of the day and almost skipped into a parking lot, not seeing the coming car, all I had to do was say “Wait!” She knew it was important and that I had a reason. She immediately stopped and I explained, with her safe in my arms.

There have been a few times we were in parking lots and I had a bad feeling. My instincts told me to get the kids in the van and lock the doors. During those times, I quietly said to my children, “Please get in the van quickly. I’ll explain later.” My children trust that I always have a reason for requests and that I willingly share those reasons with them. In those times, they have quickly and quietly gotten into the van, following my directions while they wait for me to explain what is going on.

Expecting total compliance is unrealistic. No one complies all of the time. My husband may forget to take out the trash when I have asked him to or not have time because he is running late. I may not have time to do something that he has asked me to because tending to a hurt child was more important or I was ap at night taking care of my children or not feeling well. Our children have their own reasoning, which may or may not be quite as developed as ours, built upon experience, is. If we take the time to explain the reasons behind our requests, they learn why we do different things. By listening to them and their reasoning, we model listening and mutual respect. Through these means, we develop a bond of trust which serves well in those times when safety is at question.