Unlocking the Power of Innate Cooperation: How to Inspire Your Child's Trust and Connection for a Harmonious Family Life

Unlocking the Power of Innate Cooperation: How to Inspire Your Child's Trust and Connection for a Harmonious Family Life

Family creating connection Humans are designed to cooperate AND build connection! Unlike other behaviours, cooperation is not learned but innate and evident from the get-go...
“Children are remarkably cooperative from a very young age. From their first birthday children recognise the goals of others and show an inclination to help, and they seem to delight in sharing attention and information with others.” (Slocombe and Seed 2019)
So if you’re experiencing defiance, ignoring, refusal or rebellion here’s how to inspire genuine cooperation without resorting to threats…

1. Children listen because they trust in what we say

Gaining the cooperation we seek requires relationship. What do I mean exactly? Your ability to influence and inspire your child into cooperation depends on WHO you are to your child. The connection is everything. I don’t mean whether you’re mum or dad. It’s about whether you’re a trustworthy, safe harbour for them regardless of how delightful or messy they feel on the inside.
If your child doesn’t listen to you, ask yourself how you could better listen to them?
Are you accepting them as they are? Did you empathise with their situation? Are you sensitive to their needs in the moment? Did you offer any choice or some autonomy? If your child is ignoring you or not making eye contact it's a sign they feel disconnected. And children often feel disconnected when the adult behaviours are fear-based? Threats, bribes, punishments, even rewards, are all based on the fear that without them the child will not comply. Children are very attuned to the feeling behind our words. This means their ears prick up when they hear us empathise with their desires and show care for their happiness. The feeling is very different to when we threaten or issue illogical consequences. And children are VERY attuned and sensitive to the feelings around them. The more your child trusts that you will respond to them kindly and firmly the safer they will feel. Safety equals a feeling of greater connection.
"We might say, 'You stop doing it because I said so.' But we seldom feel good about saying this. In fact, the kind of filial obedience we parents really want comes only out of mutual trust.” (Rolfe, R 2000)
So rather than making compliance your goal, focus on empathising and redirecting with warm confidence and leadership.

2. Children recognise genuine boundaries through experience

Connection between mum and childDon’t be afraid of saying no! Clear limits made from a place of love and clarity are not harmful or depriving. The result might be upset and anger but stay warmly attentive while big feelings and tears rise up. Tears are a great way for the child to release stress hormones and build resilience. Empathising and hearing the child’s sadness and disappointment allows feelings to move through.
The act of accepting their feelings allows them to accept our limits. This will deepen your connection.
These moments are powerful opportunities to model generosity and your unconditional love. If your child cottons on to the fact that your limits are too flexible they will always push and challenge them. This means they are less likely to cooperate and more likely to negotiate or be defiant.
“…for many normally-developing children, defiance depends on children's beliefs about autonomy and fairness. Kids recognize that we're right to insist on certain things -- like rules about violence. But they believe there are limits, and when we breach those limits, they are more likely to view our authority as illegitimate (Gingo 2017).”
If your child ignores you, move close and get extra playful while staying firm and kind. Say it and believe it - some things are non-negotiable. This doesn’t mean you’re imposing yourself on your child but creating a safe space where they know what’s required. It’s also very helpful for children to recognise that we create boundaries as a way of maintaining their safety and health. Simple explanations of our ‘why’ can make all the difference. Focussing on lightheartedness can help things from becoming heavy and serious - it’s always the feeling in you the child is picking up on.

3. Children accept routines and respond to playfulness

Creating routines requires some consistency on our part. Remember how hand washing become a new normal at the start of lockdown? It required us to be attentive and persistent until the child accepted it as part of their routine. Research shows that parents always over-estimate their child’s abilities. There will be many tasks your child can do but only with your support to stay on the ball. What will keep your child on track will be the feeling of connection they experience with you. Connection is everythingWhether it’s the brushing teeth or putting socks in the wash basket - lead by example.
Cheerfully model what is expected and your child will more likely follow. And they will follow because they see how it brings you happiness not because they see your frustration and annoyance.
Communicate clearly the expectation but get playful about making it happen. Create a silly song for teeth brushing or make that the time when you play a funny guessing game. Hold the wash basket in your arms and get your child to throw the socks in! The other thing to remember is sleep!
“…young children showing early tendencies to resist authority seemed especially sensitive to the effects of sleep loss. They were more likely than other poor sleepers to develop externalizing behavior problems over time (Goodnight et al 2007).”
So with plenty of sleep, good humour and connection these ‘tasks’ will soon be done without you asking or you child really thinking about it!


Gingo, M. 2017. Children's reasoning about deception and defiance as ways of resisting parents' and teachers' directives. Dev Psychol. 53(9):1643-1655. Goodnight, JA. Bates, JE. Staples, AD. Pettit. GS, and Dodge. KA. 2007. Temperamental resistance to control increases the association between sleep problems and externalizing behavior development. J Fam Psychol. 21(1):39-48. Rolfe, R. 2000. You Can Postpone Anything But Love, iUniverse Slocombe, K. and Seed, A. 2019. Cooperation in Children, Current Biology Volume 29, Issue 11, Pages R470-R473