5 Steps To Help Your Kids Be More Cooperative

Hey there. It’s Friday!

Here in our town, we are finishing up our second week of remote learning. The kids are getting a sneaking suspicion that seeing their friends on Zoom-school is not that fun. No spontaneous game of tag or soccer, nor trading out that carob bar for… anything at lunch, or playing dress-up before the morning circle song.

Without the fun parts of real-life school, kids are now left with distilled school. For most kids, time online ranges from an hour to a mind-numbing 7-8 hours online daily (I heard today of a kindergarten class doing 7 hours online, with an optional “short” day of 5 hours!).

These are rough scenarios for even screen-loving kids. We know kids will try to do what we’re asking of them since, after all, their survival depends on pleasing us. But when they hit the wall and can no longer conform to these high expectations, they’ll resist and it’ll come out in anger, defiance, or avoidance. Kids smell a parent agenda from a mile away and naturally resist being told what to do.

What then? The key is to show your kids that you care about their wants and needs, too. You can do this by being flexible and saying yes to the things that you can say yes to. Negotiating achieves this too and shows your willingness to help your child get what they want, but first you have to be crystal clear on the things you consider non-negotiable.

As a former *voluntary* homeschooler and a SAHM with many daytime hours logged with my kids, I know what works (and yeah, over here, I’m guilty of doing all the things that don’t) to create a more successful day at home with kids. If you can do at least a few of these things, your kids will notice, they’ll see your effort and you’ll see their hard shell of resistance begin to soften.

#1. Review the next day at bedtime. Go over your general schedule. Especially important for working-at-home parents, don’t skip the times when you’ll be available to be with your child. Even if you know this time will be brief, they’ll be less anxious (and more cooperative) knowing when they’ll have your attention. Then ask them one thing they’d like for the day ahead and see if you can make it happen. If you just can’t, tell them you’ll jot it down and will see that it happens as soon as you can.

In our house, my husband and I just re-instituted (we started this when we were homeschooling) the rule that the kids can’t come upstairs to our room in the morning. Their “arrival” was getting earlier and earlier, and we found we couldn’t recover that lost time of P & Q (peace and quiet). Now they know we’ll be down at 7:00. They complained a bit about it this week as we started it back up, but now they’re finding things to do without us no problem. Kids always want happy parents, right?! They’ll see your happy smile and it’ll register on a cellular level that this is a good thing.

#2. First three things. Set a routine so your kids know what to do in the beginning of the day, ideally at least three consecutive things. These need to be things they can do independently. If they get up early before breakfast and they tend to get hungry, you can either set out some food to help ease their hunger until you’re ready to make breakfast or if they’re old enough (note: I’ve found this works best if they’re responsible for at least some of the work of putting food together), they can prepare their own morning snack. (I’ll have lots more on the subject of food and kids). The key here is more kid ownership and parent trust = cooperation).

A great tip from veteran homeschoolers is to use a song to begin the day. Let the kids choose and be forewarned you’re going to hear it a lot! Here’s what it looks like in our house: at close to 7:55, I or one of the kids puts on Michael Jackson’s Thriller and they’ve got 5:57 to make beds, brush teeth, and check the cat and dog bowls. Use music to sweeten up what your kids dread most. It’s a fantastic transition tool, too.

#3. Hear their complaints. This is epic. With the current state of remote learning, kids have fewer opportunities to complain to their friends. So it’s even more important than usual – because it’s always important – to just listen to your kid’s complaints. No fixing, no feedback, no disagreeing. Remember, you’re not agreeing with your child; you’re making space for them to unload so it doesn’t come out during math class. I’ve done this many times and it has never resulted in an escalation of feelings. It’s a release and the outcome is calm.

#4. Let them find you sitting on the floor doing nothing. Hard for working parents for sure. Let your kid find you doing nothing and watch what happens. Can you break for lunch 10 minutes early and go sit on the floor? As your child finds you, look them in their eyes and stay present. Just for 10 minutes. The result is a child who’s been seen, heard, and feels valued. Now they’re filled up and have a renewed sense of willingness and generosity.

#5. Play or roughhouse. Oh how this is my go-to when I smell a pending disaster on the horizon! And I’m not even a naturally playful person. Like I read for fun. Yawn. If I can do it, so can you. This is a tool. For those other non-playful parents like me, acquire this tool and pull it out with the first whine or sibling poke. If you’ve got only a few minutes, it will still have huge benefits. Especially effective is when something serious (like having to eat breakfast in 10 minutes or teeth brushing before bed) is interrupted by YOU to play.

Have three or four things in mind that get your child laughing and screaming. My kids like mommy monster, a scary version of hide and seek. I add dramatics and growls and always throw them around on their beds when they find me.

When I’m not so energetic, I like to do robot mommy where I walk around being robot doing what they command me to do (yes, sometimes I pick my nose).

We all love a game I made up in a desperate moment called “baba”. I suddenly look at my child like they’re my long-lost best friend. My eyes get super wide, I’m shrieking with wild love, crazy to smother them in hugs and kisses, never letting them go. They love it.

A last favorite is alien. This is when I sit in their room and do inappropriate things with their belongings. Eating underwear, throwing homework in the garbage.

Get in the habit of helping your child let go of their upsets while saying yes to the things you can, and before long you’ll be seeing more cooperation.

A brilliant book on play with kids.

Peaceful Parenting coach Sarah Rosensweet’s long list of roughhousing ideas free here.

This How To Talk So Kids Will Listen is always relevant.

I’m always looking for more play ideas — please share yours!

Have a nice weekend.


  • Reply Nancy August 29, 2020 at 2:10 am

    LOVE your ideas!! So timely, too! Nancy

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