What takes the “co” out of co-operation?


What takes the “co” out of “co-operation” between a parent and a child? Since young children first learn by mimicking their parents, let’s look at what parents might be doing that creates barriers and roadblocks to cooperation..

My Way or the Highway

Some parents are convinced that they know what’s best and expect their children to follow and obey. But what some parents know may not be the best way. Barbara Coloroso in her book, kids are worth it!, Penguin Canada, 2001, refers to these parents and their families as brick-wall families:

“A brick wall is a nonliving thing, designed to restrict, to keep in, and to keep out. In brick-wall families, the structure is rigid and is used for control and power, both of which are in the hands of the parents.“

The brick-wall family can also be referred to as authoritarian. It is characterized by parents obsessed with order, control, and obedience. In brick-wall families love is conditional on obedience and performance, both based on the parents‘ “my way or the highway” standards. Kids are not taught to think for themselves.

Coloroso identified two other categories – jellyfish, or backbone, which will be discussed in a later post.

Quick as Lightning

How we feel, react, and communicate is often automatic and instantaneous. These quick bolts can get in the way of connecting respectfully with children. Our communicating style can fuel or defuse conflict, thereby facilitating or discouraging cooperation. At its worse, it harms by making it next to impossible to develop close and cooperative relationships.

How do we change this damaging habit? Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, author, and teacher, suggests the following first step:

“Not causing harm requires staying awake. Part of being awake is slowing down enough to notice what we say and do.”

A central theme of Pema Chödrön‘s teachings is the Tibetan word shenpa, or how we get hooked. Shenpa is the sudden tightness you feel first when things go wrong, and then the spiral downward into criticizing, blaming, or becoming angry. More information is available from THE SHENPA SYNDROME: Learning to Stay at the Berkeley Shambhala Center.

Let’s Put a Label on that … Oops, on You!

How often is our immediate reaction to judge, find fault, and label children as bad, not good; lazy, not industrious; stupid, not smart; and the list goes on and on. Instead, Hart and Hodson, in Respectful Parents Respectful Kids, suggest that parents share with their children:

  1. clear observations (without labels and evaluation) about what they see or hear happening;
  2. how it affects them, better still … how it makes them feel;
  3. what the parent needs; and,
  4. what are possible solutions to this problem.

Sounds simple, but it may need effort to learn how to make this change fast enough to avoid hurtful complaints.

Who Cares? … or a Lack of Empathy

How do you feel when you are criticized? What goes on in your mind just before you react, or does your mind even get involved?

How do you think your child feels when he or she is criticized? Don’t be surprised if they react in the same way that you do?

The Stick and the Carrot

How are you making out with the “rewards and punishment” approach? Most research claims it doesn’t work. New Ideas and buzz-words are: authentic consequences and inner discipline. These tactics are not simple to understand or implement … look for a future post to delve into them.

The 7 Keys to Cooperation

The next post will focus on the 7 key areas that develop the parents’ capacity to establish home as a No-Fault Zone – a place that replaces fault-finding, punishment and reward with:

  • valuing every family member’s needs equally, and
  • doing one’s best to meet these needs.



“If a child is to keep his inborn sense of wonder,

he needs the companionship of at least one adult

who can share …”

Rachel Carson,

American Marine Biologist, Nature Writer,

credited with advancing the global environmental movement (1907-1964)

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