In our marriage, friendships and work life we intend to speak in a way that creates effective, meaningful interactions characterized by respect and compassion. So, how do parents maintain this intention in our communication with our children when we want them to cooperate? Some ways in which we achieve cooperation are to:
•Reward them when they do as we want
•Coerce them to do as we want them to do
•Punish them when they don’t do as we want them to do.

These alternatives all put the parent in the role of an authoritarian figure where we are using our power over our children to get what we want. Using these alternatives to get a child or an adult to behave in a certain way are likely to be met with resistance because these methods threaten one’s autonomy, or right to do what they want to do. One does not need to be a parent for long to realize that you cannot make someone do what you want them to do. Think of the last time you tried to get your 4 year old to eat all of his vegetables, or to get your teenager to empty the garbage. Using punishment, coercion or rewards frequently involves a power struggle that leaves the parent feeling exhausted and the kids angry.

So, how do we as parents communicate in a way that creates respect and compassion, where both children’s and parent’s needs matter when we are trying to get our children to cooperate? Three skills that a parent can use are: Anticipating Success, Descriptive Praise and Reflective Listening.

1. Anticipating Success includes providing children with an infrastructure that facilitates success including, enough sleep and rest for the child’s developmental age, nourishing food, safety, a clean environment, structure and a caring, loving environment. Knowing your child’s temperment and coping style and having age appropriate expectations guides a parent in making choices about what is best for the child. Other techniques that facilitate success in planning include:
•Be proactive, create solutions by anticipating the child’s needs in a situation.
• Plan your day with realistic time frames.
•Prepare the environment to facilitate the child’s success.
•Establish age appropriate rules and routines, use checklists. Meet with the child to discuss the new rules. Do a “talk through” of the new rules and routines. Write the rules down so everyone remembers. Explain to the child the “why” of routines and rules as part of the training.
• Establish age appropriate rewards and consequences. Use descriptive praise to reinforce the new behaviors.
• Verbally rehearse new routines and expectations including use of story books and pictures.
•Never do for the child what he/she can do for self so that the child can master routines and gain self-confidence and independence.

2. Descriptive Praise is the most powerful motivating tool that a parent can use. It can reduce the number of incidents of misbehavior, it conveys values and rules, and it increases the child’s confidence and cooperation. Descriptive Praise is about noticing and describing the good things that the child does.
•It is about noticing effort rather than results
•It sets a mood in the parent-child relationship because the parent is more aware of the child’s effort
•It is positive and optimistic
•It describes the positive behavior specifically rather than generally.

3. Reflective Listening is a way of providing a caring, nurturing environment for our children If we want a child to be a compassionate, caring human being who respects others, we need to respond to them in respectful, caring ways. Reflective Listening is used to:
•Show that feelings matter
•Show that it is possible to talk about uncomfortable or complicated feelings
•Show that the parent cares about the child’s feelings
•Teach the child that all feelings are acceptable, even though certain behavior is not
•Teach the child a vocabulary for articulating feelings

Reflective Listening is done by:
•Listening quietly and attentively
•Giving the feeling a name or identifying the child’s feeling
•Setting aside your own feelings temporarily
•Refraining from interrupting, arguing reasoning or justifying with the child

Using the skills of Anticipating Success, Descriptive Praise and Reflective Listening parents can demonstrate compassion and caring for their child while shaping cooperative behavior. In turn, the child will develop motivation to cooperate, positive self esteem and empathy for others.

For a more detailed description of the above skills refer to other blog entries on the Parents-Central website,

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