Cincinnati Family Magazine

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July 23, 2024

Discipline 101: Kid Cooperation

Parenthood brings some of the most rewarding experiences a person can have.

fea_discipline2.pngThe smile of a child can brighten the darkest of days. His loving words can melt your heart. But amidst all the joy, most parents admit that the responsibility has its challenges. A common struggle among many parents is getting their children to cooperate without resorting to yelling or nagging. When situations with children repeatedly get out of control, even the most calm parent can face an emotional meltdown.

Children have free will and, at times, will choose to be defiant. How parents respond to their actions sends a clear signal as to what behavior is acceptable and how the future stages will be set. While child-rearing is not an exact science and there is no magical solution to guarantee positive results every time, parents can achieve peace without compromising their authority through careful planning and determination.


Some parents feel no one listens until they yell. But when parents have lost control and begin yelling at their children to get results, they can expect the situation to worsen.

Psychologists generally agree that yelling harms a child emotionally and can cause future depression or aggression. Shouting insults can be even more harmful.

“An important thing to remember is that one of the primary ways that children learn is through imitation,” says Whitney Loring, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist at Pediatric Associates of Franklin. “If, as a parent, you model that yelling is the appropriate way to handle anger or get a point across, the child will do the same thing when he is in situations in which he is frustrated or angry because that is what has been modeled for him,” she adds.

Angela Sutherland, a Nashville mom of a 9- and 3-year-old, believes it is important to make sure that you have your children’s attention and have given instructions that they comprehend. “I try not to yell at my kids,” she says. “Instead, I try to make sure that they hear me the first time. At times I will have them repeat back to me what I communicated so we are both on the same page.”

Being understanding can also help alleviate stressful situations. When a child is completely engrossed in an activity, such as playing with friends or watching a TV program, he may comply more readily if given a few minutes warning that the activity is about to come to an end.

Yelling may cause a child to quickly respond through fear, at first. But if parents believe yelling is their only recourse and it becomes the norm, the child will be taught that it is not necessary to comply until the parent is pushed to the edge. Parents should find a way to calm down if they feel that they are getting too frustrated or angry.

Take deep breaths or leave the room for a moment. It is imperative that adults who shout at children find a better way to resolve issues; when parents feel they cannot stop yelling, professional help should be sought.

Nagging and Pleading

Parents who have no inclination to yell may still use fruitless methods when seeking to get kids to cooperate. It is very common to hear flustered parents begging their children to cooperate. Just take a look around at the park, mall or grocery store. In her book, Kid Cooperation: How to Stop Yelling, Nagging & Pleading and Get Kids to Cooperate (New Harbinger Publications; $15.95), Elizabeth Pantley says parents are often “unknowingly and unconsciously controlled by their children.”

She suggests that parents record conversations with their children – during a family meal, for example. It’s easy for parents to fall into repeating themselves several times before they get or really even expect compliance.

“For children who seek a lot of one-on-one attention and do not always know the appropriate way to receive it, they sometimes learn that noncompliance is a way to engage their parent in the give-and-take that occurs when a parent nags or yells,” says Loring. “Although it is hard for a parent to grasp, ‘bad attention’ is still a form of attention.”

In her book, Give Them Wings (Focus; $12.99), author Carol Kuykendall writes that children may not respond because, “there is no consequence of great enough importance to motivate compliance.” The consequence should be something that matters to the child – such as taking away a favorite toy or privilege. Children know exactly how many times they’ll be asked before Mom or Dad is “really serious.” Be serious with your first request.

“All children test the limits their parents have set for them,” writes James C. Williams in his book, Parenting on Point (Abingdon Press; $17). There could come a time when it’s a life or death situation. If a child walks into the street and a car is coming, it is imperative that the child follow the instruction to move the first time it is given. There may not be enough time for the popular method of counting to three before a child is expected to obey. Parents must also maintain teamwork. If one parent is wishy-washy and really has no backbone when it comes to parenting, the kids know. The temptation to be laissez-faire must be overcome.

Some parents are CEOs of large corporations, directing hundreds or thousands of people, but may be noncommittal when it comes to guiding their own children. A company would go down the drain if its leaders repeatedly relied on methods that had failed time after time. When a method a parent is using is failing – or when there is no method at all – the time has come to rethink things and institute a plan.

A Plan for Peace

Creating or maintaining a peaceful home takes effort. But building a haven away from the frenzied world is one of the best gifts a parent can give. Simply hoping for a peaceful home won’t be enough. There has to be deliberate intention. Rash decisions on the fly often fail or are contrary to what would have been chosen with careful contemplation. Pantley says, “Rules and routines can create more peace in a home than almost anything else I can think of.”

Here are a few ideas for guiding you in this process:

  • Make rules in advance and make them ones you can and will enforce
  • State rules clearly and keep them simple
  • Plan consequences for breaking the rules


RULE: No sassing, whining or nagging
CONSEQUENCE: Go immediately to your room, end of the discussion

Children need boundaries and will usually respond more positively when they know where they are. Sheila Ekedahl, a Franklin mom of an 8- and 6-year-old says, “What seems to work best for our family is making sure our boys know the consequences of their actions (or lack of action). Very calmly and dispassionately saying, ‘Clean your room or else you’ll lose your 30 minutes of video game time,’ works better for us than asking five times until yelling and STILL not getting the desired result,” she says.

By being proactive, it is easier to maintain self-control. There is nothing to negotiate if everyone knows the rules and moral conduct that is expected. When a child blatantly disregards these guides, parents need not wring their hands and wonder what to do. The well-thought-out response for such behavior has already been decided. Simply having a plan will often prevent parents from losing their tempers and letting situations escalate.

Remember that no two children are exactly alike. Children in the same family may respond in totally different ways. Determine which techniques work best for each child.


Consistency is the key. The best laid plans can be ruined by inconsistency. Well meaning parents may decide to forego an expected punishment or may hand out a reward even though a child’s behavior was in exact opposition to what was instructed.

This is very confusing for a child. Children like to know what to expect. Moms and dads will quickly loose credibility if they are inconsistent. Practice is the only means by which consequences can be demonstrated. If you have not been consistent in the past, now is the time to start. Before long, your children will know that you mean what you say.

Expect Positive Behavior

Be sure to always let your kids know that you expect them to do what is right. Set the bar high and give them responsibilities.

“By being required to behave responsibly, [a child] gains valuable experience in controlling his own impulses and resources,” writes James Dobson in The Strong Willed Child (Tyndale; $14.99).

Rewards should be given when they have met high expectations. It will benefit them greatly. Respecting parents is the first step. When children are diligently taught, while they are young, to respect others and have self-control, they are better prepared to make right choices as they go out into the world.

Wendy Schreiber is a mom and freelance writer. She lives in Franklin with her family.

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