It was the Monday after a weekend of having guests in the house and the messy aftermath was demanding my attention…as was my 3-year-old daughter. She wanted me to watch her dance, draw with her, play blocks; it seemed to be even more urgent now that there was a load of laundry to hang out and vacuuming to be done.
As she continued to ask for my time and as I continued to attempt to finish chores, I realized that neither one of us were getting what we wanted and the mood was becoming quite tense. I was at my breaking point when, suddenly, I had an ‘aha’ moment.
Why can’t we just make it work for both of us?
It seemed so simple. “Oh dear,” I said. “You want to be with me and I have chores to do! You know, I could use some help. Could you help me please?”
Her eyes lit up. “Of course!” It seemed that what she really wanted was to connect with me and to be included in my day.
Together we got through a few chores before she felt connected to me again and wandered off to play independently.
I finished my chores with little distraction other than my own thoughts about the power of teamwork. While I felt great about the teamwork that my daughter and I had just experienced, it led to me thinking about other experiences I had when teamwork was the catalyst to success and the experiences I’ve had in which teamwork was overlooked as a solution.
There’s No ‘I’ In Team
I think back to my days as a dancer and recall how teamwork helped our troupe perform well. Dancers would help each other fine tune their steps and being aware of each other on stage allowed us to keep in time and avoid running into one another!
Of course, dance troupes aren’t the only teams that require teamwork. Whether it be in academics, sports or industry, success comes from teamwork. But it’s not just success that makes teamwork great, teamwork also has some pretty awesome benefits, such as:
- Dividing responsibilities, decreasing the chance of burnout
- Helping to learn or strengthen the navigation of interpersonal relationships
- Teaching or improving empathy
- Giving us appreciation of others’ differences
- Creating connection through common interests
The amazing thing about having a family is that they are a built-in team, always there regardless of the season, giving us direct access to all of the above benefits within our own families! We can’t get there on our own, though – everyone in the family has to be on board. If even just one family member consciously chooses not to cooperate, then the team’s success is compromised. However, family members cannot be forced into cooperation.
Cooperation is not obedience.
So what’s the difference?
Obedience is blind compliance. “Do as you’re told!” or “I’m your mother and you’ll do as I say!” Compliance is often gained out of fear of punishment. This was the reality for me in my childhood home–don’t question, don’t think, just hurry up and obey or suffer the consequences!
Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting, says that while obedient children are capable of following orders without question, they are less likely to stand up for themselves and more likely to be taken advantage of.
Cooperation, on the other hand, happens without force or obligation and is beneficial for all people involved. Cooperation is an advanced skill that must be learned, as it means being able to consider both our own needs and wants and those of another person and then problem solving to find an agreeable medium.
Dr. Tina Bryson in her Yes Brain Masterclass and book “The Yes Brain” describes a “yes brain” as being open and resilient to the world; a yes brain is necessary to learn. A “no brain,” on the flipside, is one in which children are closed off and unable to learn or retain information. This is why it’s so important to be able to recognize our children’s emotional states.
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So how can we encourage all of our family teammates to be on board and work towards common family goals? Here are four ways to foster a team mentality of unity and cooperation with your family.
#1: Be the Team Captain
Almost anything that we expect our children to do, we should be doing ourselves first. Leading from the inside as the team captain allows us to also be a teammate rather than only overseeing the team as a coach.
Whether the captain of a sports team or the captain of a family, there are some key characteristics of great leadership, including:
- They show respect. Travis B. Key, former football captain, says
“As a team captain, it’s your job to make sure everyone truly feels appreciated. You can’t expect someone to give 100 percent if he or she feels like an outsider, and no team can reach its full potential without everyone giving 100 percent.”
- They build up their teammates. Instead of criticizing mistakes and giving lectures, they praise and encourage. Consequently, their teammates feel like their captain believes in them which drives them to give 100% to their team.
- They care about their teammates. Personal relationships with their teammates are important. They make an effort to get to know their teammates and understand them better.
Even our mistakes can be beneficial, if we handle them with grace. One study showed that children are more likely to persist on tasks if they have seen adults succeed and fail.
When we are gracious about our own mistakes, our children see that it’s okay to make them. They become more likely to make meaningful contributions to family life even if sometimes it involves doing something that takes a lot of effort or isn’t easy.
#2: Communicate Genuinely
To foster teamwork and cooperation, every member of the family must have their own voice and have their voice be heard. Genuine communication is the glue that holds a family together. When family members feel heard by each other they also feel less angry and stressed.
Communication is always two-way and as parents we can encourage teamwork by giving our children opportunities to build communication skills as both the sender and receiver.
Genuine communication as the sender happens when:
- The sender communicates with honesty. We can encourage our family members to be forthcoming and open. “I’m annoyed that there are jackets and bags thrown in the hallway.”
- The sender is clear and concise in their communication. We can encourage our family members to think before speaking, to consider what it is that they truly want to say. “I feel sad today and I don’t know why. I need some time.”
- The sender is kind in their sharing. Sometimes the truth can be hard to hear, particularly if the other person is bringing up a grievance that involves them. For example, showing kindness in communication might mean waiting to speak to your child after their friends have gone home, rather than embarrassing them in front of their friends.
Genuine communication as the listener happens when:
- The listener puts active listening into practice. We can encourage our family members to be present during communication and to listen without judgement or distraction.
- The listener listens with their eyes. Sometimes children can’t vocalize their needs, even as teens. If we look closely, underneath the words, we can almost always find the answers. Actions and behaviors are often the best clues.
- The listener accepts and respects other perspectives, even when they do not share them. The same goes for accepting and respecting emotions, even when they feel misplaced. “Wow, so you want your brother to go away forever, huh? You must really feel bothered by him today. I like my own space sometimes too, how about you take your book and read in my room with the door closed?”
While older children may be able to communicate the emotions they are feeling in healthier and more efficient ways, crying is a normal act of expression for babies and young children.
As frustrating as crying can be, it’s important that we become comfortable with it because crying is actually a healing thing! Crying triggers the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), which is the part of the nervous system that maintains the body’s resting rate. It also decreases adrenalin, therefore the activation of the PSNS brings the body back to a state of rest and balance.
Crying also releases endorphins which contribute to the crying person “feeling better” after they have cried. Speaking from (a lot of) experience, this statement is most definitely true! We can treat crying as we would treat any verbal communication: by giving our presence and our listening ears.
#3: Share Household Responsibilities
Most children naturally want to be involved with daily tasks, and they’re more capable than we think. While it can be slow and often messy, giving them the opportunity to help now sets positive habits early on in life.
With toddlers or infants, inclusion might be something as simple as offering an element of what we are doing; for example, some water in a small watering can or a tea towel or some spoons.
Even the youngest of babies can be involved by being able to watch and hear what we are doing. When my little one was very young, not yet rolling over, I would set her up underneath the clothes airer as I hung out her colorful cloth nappies. She was delighted with all the bright colors appearing and swinging above her. Sometimes I would exaggerate the action of getting a peg out of the basket so she could hear the pegs rattling around.
The possibilities of inclusion are endless and often depend on the individual child and the structure of each home. Some ideas to begin with could include:
- Looking and/or listening to pegs in a clear container
- Playing with a pair of folded socks or textured cloth as we fold the laundry
- Splashing in water while parents are gardening
- Watching and listening from a sling or baby carrier as we go about daily tasks
- Folding washcloths and tea towels
- Playing with chopped (age appropriate) veggies as we make meals
- Measuring ingredients for cooking or baking
- Watering the garden/digging in soil
- Put grocery items into the shopping cart
- Unloading the groceries
- Programming the washing machine and pressing start
- Sweeping or vacuuming
- Washing windows
- Chopping vegetables
- Loading the dishwasher
- Cooking dinner
- Doing their own laundry
- Cleaning the bathroom
- Mowing lawns
- Taking out the trash
Independence takes time and encouragement but setting up our children for success in their tasks is a sure way to get them coming back for more. Simone Davies, author of The Montessori Toddler, suggests that we focus on the following tips to work towards chore independence:
- Break down large tasks into small, easy-to-learn steps and teach our child one step at a time.
- Once our child masters a step, then we come in to show them how to do the second step and help them with the rest.
- Wait until each step is mastered before adding in the next one.
Consistent mastery gives our children confidence to keep trying new and more challenging things. It shows them that we want them to have the independence they seek and that we will help them when they need it, modeling teamwork!
#4: Create Family Rituals and Traditions
Throughout the history of humankind, rituals and celebrations have been used to define family and community. A review of 50 years of research has shown that rituals say, “this is who we are and who we will continue to be.”
Rituals can be defined as acts that create meaning. They are acts that create a sense of belonging and warmth to each participating individual.
As adults, we likely all remember some sort of ritual or tradition our family had when we were children. When I was a little girl, my mum and dad would say prayers with me every night and give me a kiss and cuddle. Every Sunday after church we would pull into the bakery for pizza bread, cinnamon scrolls and custard squares. We’d all sit at the breakfast bar, eyeing up the goods as our parents would be on the other side cutting and plating them up.
Even though these things seem simple, there was meaning in it: we are a family and this is how we show it.
Now that I’m a parent myself, my husband and I have our own rituals and traditions that we share with our daughter. We have a team chant that we’ve been saying since our daughter was a newborn. It’s a reminder of who we are with and who we are rooting for. Over time, our team chant has evolved with our daughter’s input. Involving our children in the evolution of rituals and traditions as they grow up makes them even more special.
Some of the most common rituals revolve around birthdays, anniversaries and religious events, but family rituals can be created from anything that nurtures family identity, such as:
- Celebrating the start of each season with a dinner of seasonal foods
- Friday night game night
- Family walk on the first day of daylight savings
- Full moon affirmations/ New Moon
- A special song, book or family chant to do at bedtime
- Saying grace at the dinner table
Teamwork and cooperation can be implemented in our daily lives, like when my daughter helped me with the housework. Even when it feels small, those everyday doses of teamwork prepare us for the larger, more challenging times of life. This is often when the benefits of teamwork are most prevalent.
The teamwork mentality has surely helped my family throughout the trying time of the pandemic. After an unexpected job offer, our family packed up and moved interstate and into statewide lockdown. As if lockdown wasn’t stressful enough, our new neighbors were violent drug addicts.
We spent a year in that house, in and out of lockdowns, and suffered the loss of a parent during that time.
It wasn’t easy, at times it was downright painful, but how we got through it was by keeping our team values firmly in place.
- We built each other up by continuing our meaningful traditions and rituals
- We shared responsibilities and helped each other where we could, and
- We encouraged open and honest communication
With cooperation and teamwork as the foundation of our daily lives, our family culture becomes strong and sturdy enough to withstand a storm.
A family that sees themselves as a team has a culture that is flexible enough to evolve and grow as our families grow with it. The family culture we instill in our children now, they will instill in their own children, and our hard work and passion moves through generations to come!
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
Take a few minutes to reflect on the current teamwork happening in your family. Journal, think about, or discuss the following with a trusted friend, spouse or family member:
- Does your family unit currently work as a team? Are all members invested into the concept of teamwork?
- Do you feel your leadership role is that of a team captain or do you often feel more like a coach?
- Does your family’s current way of communicating bring your family closer together, or does it often create division?
- Are the household responsibilities appropriately distributed between family members? What responsibilities are your children ready to learn?
- What family traditions and rituals already exist within your family? Are there any traditions you would like to create?
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
As you move towards fostering a family culture of unity and cooperation through teamwork, you may want to focus on these steps in working toward long-term goals:
- Create a plan to work on one area that you want to improve at a time, breaking it down into manageable steps
- Observe your and family members’ actions as you work through each of the steps and purposely look for team effort
- Note and praise the effort made
- Periodically check in with your family to get a gage on everyone’s level of buy-in to a team approach