Parenting Skills Part 2: Improving Cooperation

In my previous Parenting Skills Part 1 post, we covered relationship enhancement and P.R.I.D.E skills. Now, I would like to share BE DIRECT tips that parents may use to give effective commands to improve cooperation with their children. By being direct, parents help their children clearly understand how parents expect them to behave to ultimately set the children up for success (in complying with rules, completing tasks, etc.).

  1. Be specific with your commands: When parents are specific and clearly state what they want their children to do, parents are more likely to get the desired results. If parents are vague, they leave requests up to their children’s interpretations. Parents cannot expect their children to be mind-readers. For example, instead telling children, “Behave!” try stating, “Please keep your hands to yourself.”
  2. Every command stated positively: Parents should avoid using “no,” “don’t,” and “stop.” These words tend to elicit negative responses from children who feel criticized. When parents tell children what not to do, they are not necessarily explaining what the expected/appropriate behavior actually is, which sets the children up to fail at complying. When children learn what parents do not want them to do and what “pushes their buttons,” there may be the tendency to continue those behaviors to get a rise out of their parents. For example, in place of “Don’t run,” try “Please use your walking feet.”
  3. Developmentally appropriate: Parents should make sure that their requests are age-appropriate for their children. Parents’ expectations for a three-year-old will be different than their expectations for an eight-year-old.
  4. Individual rather than compound: Parents should give one instruction/command at a time. Younger children and children with attention difficulties may struggle to focus on multiple requests that are given at one time, which may result in the children only remembering the first and last commands. When parents give multiple commands, it is too much at one time, which can be overwhelming for children.
  5. Respectful and polite: When parents start requests with “please,” they are modeling respect and polite manners. This is pretty self-explanatory.
  6. Essential commands only: When parents list a string of requests at once, children often become overwhelmed. When children feel overwhelmed and overloaded with commands, they are more likely to ignore their parents’ requests and not comply. Parents should make sure that they give children commands when it is really important for children to comply.
  7. Choices when appropriate: When parents give their children choices, they are allowing children to develop independence, decision-making skills, and problem-solving skills. Again, paying attention to the number of choices parents give their children is important as too many choices may be overwhelming for children and result in no decision being made. Parents may limit the choices they give children to two or three. For example, “It is time for breakfast. You may either have yogurt with fruit or oatmeal with fruit.” Another example would be, “It is time to get dressed. You may wear your blue jeans or your green pants.”
  8. Tone of voice is neutral: When parents raise their voice and/or use an angry or pleading tone with their children, both parents and children may become frustrated and irritated. Using a neutral, firm tone of voice increases compliance.
  9. Predictable and consistent response: Parents should be consistent in their consequences and praise. When parents are consistent, then children learn what behaviors are expected and can be more successful. After parents give commands/requests, if children comply, parents should follow up with praise (verbal praise, high five, etc.). If children do not comply, then consequences should be consistent and match the non-compliant behavior. For example, if a three-year-old child refuses to help clean up their toys, parents should not sit the child in “time out” for twenty minutes or refuse to let their child have dinner. Rather, parents may explain the importance of cleaning up the toys and have child sit in “time out” for three minutes and inform child that “when you are ready to clean up your toys, then you may come out of time-out and I will help you.” When child complies, parents should offer praise.

Parents, remember that implementing these skills is a learning process for you and your children. This process will not happen overnight so be patient and kind with yourselves. If you feel yourself becoming frustrated, put yourself in “time out” and take a deep breath before continuing.

For more parenting skills and tips, or if you are struggle with some aspects of parenting, we can help coach you through the challenges of parenting at any stage. Reach out to us by calling 303-393-0085 or email us at We want to support you and your family in having the very best relationships possible.

~ Jennie Tuttle Baughn

*Adapted from UC Davis CAARE Center: