Birth to 2

Infants and babies can't truly cooperate, in the sense of willinglygoing along with an agenda. Parents can create a harmonious synchrony bytuning into their child's needs and meeting them. A one-year-old may beobedient, backing off when his mother chides, "Don't touch that!" Buthis reaction is externally rather than internally directed.

As a child nears two, being uncooperative is the name of the game. Butnegativism is actually a positive expression of his drive to be separatefrom his parents, to figure out who he is. "No" is a powerful tool whenhe doesn't have many others. Kids this age like to experiment withlimits--laughing and coming close to touching a forbidden object, thenlooking up to see a parent's reaction.

Two-year-olds are also not very good at the second part of cooperation-working in synchrony with others. Their concern with their own needs anddemand for instant gratification make it close to impossible for them toshare toys and combine efforts.

What Can Parents Do?

  • Talk your child through the steps of a solution: "You really wanted a turn, but it's not OK to take Robby's toy away. Please say to him, 'When you're done, can I have a turn?'"
  • Help your child avoid black-and-white thinking: "What could you give Robby to play with while you play with his toy?"
  • What's the Goal? To introduce your child to the basics of sharing and problem-solving.

    3 to 4

    Three- and four-year-olds usually spend time with other kids inpreschool or daycare, where they learn to hang their coats; wait forothers to be served; and sit quietly when it's circle time. They tend tocooperate with these rules largely because they crave approval fromgrown-ups. When they don't comply, it's usually because their naturalimpulses--to say what's on their mind or handle interesting objects--is too strong for them to control.

    What Can Parents Do?

  • Encourage verbal problem-solving, saying, "How do you think that makes her feel?" and "Can you think of some ways to work this out?"
  • Emphasize how much fun it is to make up plays with friends or work together on an art project.
  • What's the Goal? Develop language skills that make it easier for children to listen to others and to practice working out conflicts in play.

    5 to 7

    At elementary-school age, children have more control over theirimpulses. If they're told not to touch something, they can often reinin their curiosity. They respect authority, and they typically accepthousehold and classroom rules. A six-year-old who is being picked upfrom a playdate may whine, but he's likely to understand that it'salmost dinnertime, and he'll get ready to go.

    What Can Parents Do?

  • Share a "family style" dinner, such as at a Chinese restaurant, and point out how sharing the dishes means everyone can enjoy the meal.
  • Create a list of family rules for cooperation, for example, "We don't interrupt each other when we're speaking" and explain the reasoning behind each rule.
  • What's the Goal? To internalize the steps of problem-solving and understand that unless they cooperate, there will be no game or finished project.

    8 to 10

    At this age, the ability to see events from another's perspective and topredict probable outcomes helps kids with both kinds of cooperation (following rules and getting along with others).

    For example, it may be fun to goof off when a substitute teacher isrunning the class, but they know that if they misbehave, their regularteacher will be angry and pile on more work. So they may choose tocomply rather than suffer the consequences. Understanding variousclassmates' likes and dislikes helps them coordinate projects, likeclass presentations, more effectively. This is the age when kids like toparticipate in clubs and Scouting.

    What Can Parents Do?

  • Encourage participation in team sports, where teamwork skills are taught and rewarded.
  • Take your child with you to pick out birthday presents for friends, asking your child to think of what the friends like and don't like.
  • What's the Goal? To make sure your child understands the reasoning behind rules and to develop his or her capacity to see others' points of view.

    11 to 13

    In the preteen years, children regress with regard to cooperation. Liketwo-year-olds, they often test limits and break rules as a way ofestablishing their independence. They no longer easily accept the rulesset by parents and teachers. Hormonal surges make them feel irritableand moody--and unwilling to cooperate.

    At the same time as they are breaking away from parents, preteens aremuch more interested in their friends. However, they're more likely towant to cooperate only with certain friends and to be distantand even cruel to others.