Family Co-operation, starting early

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By Hilary Smith

So you’ve just seen your sister and you’re wondering why it is that her kids seem so much more civilised than yours. Is it just that they are a bit older? Or is it something she does?

Family co-operation isn’t simple. It can bubble up spontaneously when your luck is with you and sink without a trace when it’s not. Co-operation adds a wealth of enjoyment to family life when it’s present. It takes an ongoing contribution from the whole family to make it a regular way of being.

Building an expectation of family co-operation takes deliberate effort. The whole family has to be involved, including the kids. Otherwise, all you get is kids doing what bigger, more powerful people tell them to do. Talking about what co-operation means in your family is important. It’s a good way for kids to get a sense of the positive difference co-operation can make in their lives. They need to find reasons that make sense to them if they are to be fully involved in the family effort.

So what benefits might a family gain from a culture of co-operation? Information is likely to be one by-product. In order to co-operate, you need to reach a common understanding of whatever it is you are co-operating about. You tell each other how you want things to be rather than assuming the others already know, or that everyone wants the same thing. Just imagine how many tense and crabby moments can be avoided if everyone is trying to work to the same plan.

The information you have about what everyone wants helps you to negotiate with each other. It gives you more ideas about where there might be room for movement.

It helps you to establish some shared principles that apply in a number of situations. This saves you all time. It helps you to be consistent.

Inviting a sobbing, shrieking two year old to co-operate and expecting instant results is futile. On the other hand, regular talks about what each of you want, and wondering together about how you might work things out when you want something different, that is a long-term investment. It is never too early to start working on co-operation. The younger children start the better.

Talks like this give kids a chance to learn that they are part of the family and that their needs and interests carry some weight, as do everyone else’s. Over time, kids will pick up an expectation of a bit of give and take. They’ll come to expect that a reasonable case will get a hearing.

It starts to add up to the whole family being a bit more peaceful, a bit more civilised, perhaps even a bit more like your sister’s kids.

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