by Sue Kranz
In the last article, I shared ways to get a clean kitchen, and mentioned there’s a difference between compliance and cooperation.
What I’ve learned over the years is that, while parents say they want compliance, they’re seldom satisfied with it. It isn’t inherent in compliance that your child will want to do what they’ve been asked to do, just that they’ll do it, often accompanied by whining, complaining, sullenness, arguing, or anger.
In those moments, what parents want is for their child or teen to comply willingly and cheerfully. But is that reasonable or even achievable, especially if we also want them to be honest with us, including about their feelings?
Many parents believe that they’re the boss, that they know what’s best, that they should be obeyed at once, without question, and that their children should do what they say, how they say, and when they say. Unless you’re in the military, how reasonable is this? If you were a boss, would you treat your employees this way? And if you were an employee, what would you think about this regime?
If what we want as parents is willingness, then we’re talking about cooperation. And we can get some useful insights by observing other parent-child relationships and our own relationships with others.
A friend visited a few summers ago with his teenage son and daughter. He mentioned to his son that the luggage had to come in, and his son did it – no complaining, no eye rolls, cheerfully and efficiently.
This same single parent insists his children help out, but gives them freedom to choose. They’re both great cooks (the eldest went on to become a chef), so they do the cooking and he does the cleaning up – an arrangement that suits all of them. And two years running, he was the proud recipient of the Scullery Award!
I asked a friend recently how it was that her teenagers were so willing to help out. She said it was quite simple: they knew she felt anxious when the house was messy, and that wasn’t what they wanted for her, so they did their part to help keep it clean and tidy – without being asked.
And if you consider who you’re happy to help, or even offer assistance to, you may notice that the strength of your willingness is related to the strength of your relationship.
Compliance requires tools that damage the parent-child relationship: criticizing, blaming, complaining, nagging, threatening, punishing, and bribing.
Cooperation, on the other hand, relies on constantly improving the parent-child relationship by using tools that bring you and your child closer: supporting, encouraging, listening, accepting, trusting, respecting, and negotiating differences.
I found it more effective to invite my teens to join me – “Let’s clean up the kitchen” – rather than “Please clean up the kitchen.” Another was letting them choose. I still prefer washing floors to vacuuming!
Want to know more about Choice Theory? My PDF booklet Who’s Driving YOUR Car? and handout Six Things: How to create healthy boundaries are now available for download on my website at www.sanerparenting.com/downloads/. And if you want to email me at email@example.com, I always welcome your comments and questions!