Three A’s for Cooperation

By Birute Regine Posted May 12, 2014 under Guest Authors

Engaging Cooperation

Doors slamming, shouting matches, floods of tears, silent withdrawals. Emotions can run high with teenagers when approaching a sticky subject. More often than not, those touchy subjects have to do with matters that require cooperation: chores, homework or meeting expectations. How do we engage a teen’s cooperation and turn a battle ground into a partnership, or a fight into a constructive conversation?

Although there are no simple solutions to engaging cooperation, here are three A’s to follow that may help prevent frustrations from cresting and tempers from flaring: Attention, Agreement and Acknowledgement.

Attention to tone

One of most important skills that parents can model for their teen is being a good listener. It’s not only about listening to your teen’s tone of voice, it’s also listening to your own. Are you losing your temper or becoming annoyed?  What is the tone in your voice? Children and teens are sensitive to the tone in their parents’ voices – sometimes even hypersensitive.  What may seem to be a firm tone for you is heard as yelling by teens. And once they hear yelling, they stop listening.

Yelling is often a reaction. A reaction is as a purely emotional, knee jerk event. Responses are more constructive, in that you step back, assess your feelings and your teen’s and then offer a perspective.
If either child or parent finds themselves in an emotional reaction, back off.  It’s time to reset the conversation.  Humor is a great way to shift gears.  Is there an inside joke, a code word or gesture only the two of you share?  One mom and daughter had an inside joke about the word “imposter.” Mentioning the word always got a laugh. When things got too heated one would say, “Imposter!” which cued them to reset the conversation.

Agreement in goals

Are you sick of repeating yourself with no avail? Does it seem like your words go in one ear and out the other?  Sit down with your teen and make a to-do list together. What are the things your teen sees needs to get done? If you have fun plans, like going to the movies, include that in the list. Fun things in the list takes some of the drudgery out of chores. Determine the priority of the items together. The list is your shared agreement, which puts you in partnership with each other rather than at odds with each other.
Rather than demanding something be done immediately, agree to a time frame.  Let your teen figure out how he or she wants to use that time to achieve goals. Make sure your teen knows what needs to be done and by when, which will prevent any nagging.

Make sure the list and time frame are realistic. You want your teen to succeed in addressing the tasks, rather than feel overwhelmed by them. When teens are part of the process of deciding what’s on the list and the time frame, they are more likely to take ownership for it. If they don’t achieve what they agreed to do, they also are more likely to accept the consequences of those actions.


Never underestimate the power of praise and appreciation to motivate teens to do better. Acknowledge what they have accomplished along the way. When you evaluate their progress, start with sincere positive statements and then ease into the criticism. Think of it as an emotional bank account—you have to make a deposit before you can make a withdrawal.



Birute Regine EdD, Harvard educated developmental psychologist, was project manager at the Harvard Project of the Psychology of Women and Development of Girls headed by the psychologist Carol Gilligan. She was a visiting scholar at the Research Center of Women at Wellesley College and an affiliate of the Stone Center founded by Jean Baker Miller. Currently she is executive coach, group facilitator, consultant, public speaker, and founder of Iron Butterfly Power Circles. She co-authored the critically acclaimed The Soul at Work: embracing complexity science for business success.  Her latest book Iron Butterflies: women transforming themselves and the world won the Nautilus Silver medal award in 2011 in both social change and women’s interest categories. She blogs for Huffington Post and Forbes.  She dedicates herself to enhancing feminine power at work and in the world.