Cooperative Discipline

Moving away from the “Do as I say or else!” style of discipline.

Cooperative Discipline

Photo: Gerri Photography


Most of us were raised in authoritative environments in which our parents’ word was the law and we were expected to submit without question. As parents ourselves, we are moving away from the intimidating style of “Do as I say or else” to one that is more cooperative. However, we still face the challenge of raising our kids to be honest, productive members of society. We may feel at a loss about how to accomplish this without the dire warnings. Thankfully, there are tools we can all use to help us raise our kids successfully using a cooperative rather than coercive style.

Set your boundaries

Unless you know your own limits, your children’s attempts to figure out theirs will be haphazard at best. What is most important to you, and why? Your beliefs – about what is honest or deceitful, fair or unjust, respectful or insolent, compassionate or insensitive – form the foundation of how you want your child to act while out in the world. When you know your limits, it’s easier to communicate exactly what is appropriate behaviour and why.

Though each family may have different views on, say, acceptable table manners, consistency at home is key. Make your expectations clear and stick to the same plan over time. Make a commitment to “walk your talk” and use the teachable moments that arise daily to positively reinforce actions with words.


Good communication is at the heart of a cooperative disciplinary style. Healthy discussion begins with excellent listening skills. Our adult perception of what’s going on is only half the story. Valuing our child’s perspective – a teacher’s ‘unfair’ choice of helper, the bus driver’s ‘unreasonable’ anger, a partner’s ‘mean’ remarks – brings the details of the bigger picture into focus. From there, we can map out desirable behaviours in partnership with our kids, rather than imposing our law.

Admittedly, this process takes more time than simply issuing an order. However, it also yields lasting results that can make disciplining our kids easier in the long run. Our goal is to make our kids increasingly self-disciplined by helping them to internalize their ethical lessons. Ultimately, we need to know that when they go out in the world they will be confidently able to make good, healthy, moral choices for themselves without anyone else watching over them.

Build skills

Some kids will take time to open up or get the hang of problem-solving, so try to be patient. Problem solving together when both parties are calm is more effective than applying emergency band-aids in the heat of the moment. For instance, if your child 
has acted out at school, consider starting a chat in a neutral place (the car or kitchen) with something like, “So, that situation at school yesterday seemed to really upset you…what’s up?” Always respond in a neutral manner, without judgment, simply encouraging your child to express his feelings fully. Once his true concerns become obvious, express your own as concisely as possible.

Try making a positive statement about what you desire for your child (to be happy, productive and enjoy learning). Then discuss more specific concerns about how this situation is negatively impacting that aspiration (misbehaviour results in time outside the classroom, which reduces the opportunity to learn). Only then can mutually beneficial solutions be explored. Having your child list all imaginable solutions (no matter how far-fetched) and then eliminate the impractical ones is an excellent way for him to learn to problem solve. (For more information on problem-solving, visit

Set the stage

Because it is easier for kids to ‘beg forgiveness than ask for permission’, we can make appropriate behaviour effortless by establishing very clear, justified ground-rules around everything from TV, computer-use and schoolwork habits to food (treats) and friends (sleepovers). Working collaboratively is a whole lot more effort than using our authority to get our way, but it’s worth it in the end.


Tips for Cooperative Parenting

  • Try to anticipate and prevent problems from arising
  • Make rules explicit; keep it simple
  • Be consistent about what you expect and consequences
  • Use positive language; ask for what you want rather than what you don’t want
  • Help children accept responsibility: view lapses as correctable mistakes
  • Encourage decision-making and problem-solving
  • Visualize ideal scenarios with your child such as a safe walk home from school or a kind approach to a new student
  • Use humour, dramatic play or imagination to make your point – use a silly voice, sing a request,or role-play optional responses to challenging situations
  • Discipline with care – separate the behaviour from the child
  • Pick your battles – save your energy for the important stuff
  • Give yourself a break – parenting is a hard job so make it a team effort

Author: Sasha Korper

Sasha Korper is dedicated to helping kids have more fun while they learn. She works and lives in Northumberland with her husband and youngest daughter.

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