My boy’s can “fondly” remember the time we drove from our driveway heading to an undisclosed location on vacation. I decided in advance not to tell them where we were going, but to let it be a surprise. We were actually heading to St. Louis, but to complicate the situation, I decided to drive all side roads. We went through what seemed to be every back road between our house and the hotel. What should have been a four and half hour trip ended up being an eight-hour trip. The boys complained frequently, which I expected, but when the trip was over, they realized we had experienced a great time just being together.
Why did I put my boys through such misery? Am I a bad dad? Well, the jury may still be out on that answer, but my logic was simple. I wanted us to enjoy the day together as a family and I knew if I told them in advance what I planned for us to do and how we would do it, there would have been no cooperation on their part. As it turned out, we had a great trip, saw things we wouldn’t have seen on the main roads, and enjoyed the time together. In addition, it gave us a lasting memory and joke of a time when they were “miserable”.
How many times as parents do we wish our children would just go along with the plan? Are there days we simply wish they would cooperate, because we know in advance that if they will, everything will be so much better? Do we want our children to cooperate with others, maybe even others with whom they do not agree on every issue?
We are each born with natural tendencies towards selfishness and independence, but families work better when everyone gets along and cooperates. Teaching your children to cooperate should begin at an early age, as they first begin to play with other children. Once a child reaches elementary school there is a certain expectation, that he or she knows how to cooperate with other children. Learning to cooperate with others, however, is something in which each of us continues to mature throughout our life.
If you are struggling with instilling the value of cooperation in your children, here are some suggestions:
Do not make your children think they are the center of the world. Sometimes we mistakenly give our children everything they want, refuse to see their faults, and never allow them to fail. The danger is that when they become adults they expect equal treatment from the world. How is that working for you as an adult?
Model cooperation with others. Let your children see you getting along with other people, including people different from you. Be kind to the waitress who serves you. Don’t always have to have your way or prove your point. If you are constantly complaining or arguing with your spouse or other family or friends, your children will be more inclined not to cooperate with you or others and they will have learned it from you. Do you need to reconsider how you talk to people around you?
Do not provoke your children. Ephesians 6:4 is our encouragement here, which says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children”. I was probably pushing that limit with the illustration above, but I kept it light-hearted and I knew my limits. Don’t make your expectations for them be so high they can’t live up to them. Don’t set unrealistic goals for them that are really your goals and not theirs. Remember they are children you are teaching how to be mature adults. Are you placing too high of expectations on your children for their age?
Be a giver. Let your children see and participate in opportunities to give to others. Find ways they can observe you being generous with others and look for family activities where they can help you bless other people. Do a service project together. Be a giver. What is a way you could lead your family in a project to give back to others?
Live life with other people. One of the benefits of being in a healthy church or playing on a local sports team is your children get to be around other people and are often forced to figure out how to get along with each other. Find ways to allow your children to experience different cultures. Take a family mission trip. How have you exposed your children to people different from them?
What ways have you taught your children to cooperate?