Cooperation is the process of working together with others toward a specific goal or objective, and it is a building block for developing healthy relationships. Examples where cooperation can be developed include participating in a team sport or working on a group project at school.
An important element to understand about cooperation is that everyone should benefit from working together. But, because cooperation requires integrating many skills, children with other social and emotional challenges such as aggression, withdrawal and immaturity are more likely to have difficulty with cooperation. Pay attention to how well your child engages with family members and friends, and observe whether your child can independently decide when he should cooperate and when he shouldn’t. For example, can he distinguish when he’s being pressured to do something that doesn’t seem right?
How to Help
When you observe your child cooperating with others, make sure you take time to tell him what he is doing right. But when he has trouble cooperating, provide strategies for ways he may improve his cooperation skills. For example, if your child struggles to cooperate while playing board games, let him practice by playing a simpler game with you and then move to more complex ones. Your child may be more motivated to cooperate if he understands the benefits of doing so, such as making and keeping friends.
When working on projects with your child make an effort to demonstrate cooperation. For example, suppose you need to clean up the house—you could divide up the responsibilities and enjoy a reward at the end like going to the park to play.
Here are two ideas to role play where you and your child must behave in a cooperative way.
- You and your friend both want the last piece of pie.
- You have to do a group project at school and your partner wants to do a different topic.
After role-playing these scenes, discuss with your child what parts of the situation were easy or difficult. Ask them to rate themselves on how well they worked together, acted responsibly, and treated the other person with respect.
You may find that there are certain situations where your child finds it difficult to cooperate with others. Perhaps it is a particular person, a sibling for example, or it could be when there are a lot of distractions. If this is the case, shake things up a bit. If they are having difficulty with another person, have them switch roles or change the makeup of the group. If they are easily distracted, try building confidence with a less distracting activity first.
When your child experiences a problem cooperating, talk about the problem as it is happening; However, if your child is too angry or agitated in the moment, give him time to cool down first, but don’t let this chance get away. Ask him, “What was that experience like for you? What made it hard? What do you think might have made that situation easier?”