Cooperation is an essential skill that children need to learn to prepare them for the future. Children who are more cooperative tend to have a better social life, develop better communication skills, and are more likely to create long-lasting friendships that set them up for a happier life.
Raising a cooperative child takes time and patience, but there are a few simple steps that you, as a parent or teacher, can take to help foster these cooperative skills in your children.
Explain cooperation in simple terms and concrete actions
Cooperation is more than just a mouthful five-syllable word, it’s also a complex concept that your child needs help to understand. If you want your child to practice cooperation from a young age, it’s important to speak to them in terms that they are already familiar with and practice this concept with them. Take advantage of everyday situations to break cooperation down into concrete actions that you can demonstrate and they can practice.
Maybe that’s working together to build something at play group or kindy, sharing toys with other kids visiting your home, or taking turns down the slides in a playground. At each step of the way, you can help your child understand what cooperation means in real terms and over time, your child will be able to practice these steps on their own.
Lead with examples
Children learn by mimicking and modelling people around them. As a parent, be mindful around your own behaviour at home by fostering your own cooperative skills.
Do you ask kindly when you need something? Do you say “please” and “thank you”? Do you and your whānau work together when doing household chores? Do you take turns with the TV remote or choice of Netflix series? These simple behaviours will help your child learn how to cooperate and consider others.
Pay attention and offer encouragement
Everyone needs a little encouragement and children are no different. In order to know which behaviours are encouraged, they need some positive affirmations from the adults around them. When they receive confirmation that what they are doing is a good thing, they will likely remember the behaviour and practice it in the future.
Playing with other children is a key way children experience and practice cooperation. When your child shares their toys or works with others to solve a problem, acknowledge that positive behaviour and praise them for their efforts. This way, your child can develop their cooperative skills and practice this behaviour more in the future.
Don’t punish children when they don’t cooperate
You may think that offering encouragement and implementing punishments go hand in hand, but that’s really not the case with children. Punishing children when they don’t cooperate, doesn’t work; in fact, it makes them fear social situations when they have to cooperate with other kids in the future.
Instead, teach kids why it is difficult for others when they don’t share or cooperate, explain this with concrete examples, to help them empathise with others – “When you share the slide, your friends love playing with you.” Helping kids understand why their behaviour matters and how it affects others will be a better and more sustainable way of instilling a cooperative attitude in young children.
Make cooperation fun
Children learn best when practising is incorporated with something fun and engaging. When the activity is fun, their brains become more stimulated, which makes it easier for them to remember the skills and lessons.
That’s why there are many cooperative games to help children learn cooperation while playing. Lego and puzzles are great examples of cooperative games that allow kids to work together towards an end goal. At the end of the project, the kids will learn great lessons about working together and even make some new friends!
There are other ways that you can help kids practice cooperation in their everyday actions. Having a conversation together means cooperating every day, you share and model talking and listing with your child. Over time, you will raise cooperative, empathetic and well-rounded adults who will be better prepared for their future.
Unfortunately, there are children living in challenging situations who grow up without the proper support systems, and sadly, some without parental figures, that can help them learn life skills such as cooperation to prepare for their future. Save the Children New Zealand is dedicated to helping marginalised children when they are most vulnerable by supporting education, providing health assistance, and providing children with essentials like food and clean water.