“We’re training the child to cooperate, not to obey the parent. Part of working together is accepting a child’s preference when they choose not to help.”

– Michaeleen Doucleff, author of Hunt, Gather, Parent

Today’s message might be a little controversial! 

Training a child to cooperate rather than obey means that if we ask our child to help and they say no, we shrug and say, “Okay. Maybe you’ll help me next time.” 

Radical, right? Stay with me for a minute…

(This reflection is for parents of younger children. Have tweens or teens that don’t want to help? Work on your relationship with them and cultivate a culture of the family team.)

If you’re a seasoned peaceful parent, you know that obedience is not our goal as parents.

Sure, an obedient 5 year old sounds extremely appealing. At the same time, is “obedient” a trait you’re hoping your grown up child will have? 

I know it’s not what I hope for! 

This is the thing though- a lot of parents that I work with are fully on board with this idea in principle but they still get extremely upset when they ask their child to help with something and the child refuses. 

Bringing their backpack in from the car. 

Clearing their dishes and putting them in the dishwasher. 

Tidying up the living room. 

If these requests are ignored, or if you get a flat out “no”, it can be very upsetting!

We might be afraid that our kids will grow up to be entitled.

We might be angry that they are disrespecting us. (We never would have refused our parents like that! …but remember that we probably don’t want to raise our kids the way we were raised.)

We may feel like we do everything and may be tired ourselves.

I hear you!

I want you to zoom out though and keep the big picture in mind. 

How about we try for cooperative and considerate rather than obedient?

The next time you start to feel upset when you ask your child to help and they say no, keep these things in mind:

Respect goes both ways. 

Why shouldn’t kids have the same ability to say no that adults do? If someone asked you to organize the volunteers for the class party, do you have to say yes? 

Kids should be able to say no and be listened to.

Children should be able to be in charge of themselves and their bodies whenever possible. Being able to say “no” to us and have that honoured is a powerful experience and teaches children that they have agency and that they matter. It also gives them the confidence and experience they need to stay safe out in the world.

We need to model being the people we want them to be. 

Our children are still learning and they learn from us. 

If they see us cleaning up messes we didn’t make, helping when we don’t have to, and being gracious and generous with our time and energy, they will follow our lead.

Helping when you don’t “have to” is the opposite of entitled.  

If you’re still not convinced, and think you’d rather make your child help, I can guarantee you that it won’t take you where you want to go in the long run. 

According to the research, pro-social behaviour (like sharing and helping) grows when a person does it of their own free will and it feels good. You *might* be able to force your child to bring in their backpack or load the dishwasher, but it will not turn them into a genuinely helpful person. 

When my kids were little, I didn’t make them help. I did a lot myself and they helped when they would and could. It didn’t make a huge difference to my workload, but it certainly does now. 

(And honestly- isn’t it often MORE work to force someone to help than to just do it yourself?) 

When they got older, they became incredibly helpful. They like to help and never complain about chores. (Really and truly!!)

I know it can be frustrating and you are tired. You DO deserve rest and help. 

I’m not saying we should be our children’s servants. There actually are lots of strategies in between them doing what they are told and doing nothing. See this blog post for ideas for encouraging kids to help out. 

Next time you ask for help and get a no- Big picture, remember?


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