Cooperation is the act of working together for the benefit of everyone involved, versus competing against one another for personal gain. Competition has its place, but cooperation is the backbone of our families, communities, and cultures. Teaching children cooperation paves the way for healthy relationships, productivity, and a sense of being an important part of something bigger than themselves. Of course, teaching a baby or a toddler to cooperate has its challenges, but there are ways to steadily incorporate lessons of cooperation into your day to day.
Benefits of Cooperation
Before we explain how to teach babies and toddlers to cooperate, let’s look at the reasons why we teach cooperation. Cooperation helps children:
- Understand teamwork and collective problem-solving skills
- Build trust with others
- Learn empathy
- Feel safe and secure in their environments
- Bond with their peers
- Learn pro-social skills
- Enhance language and communication skills
- Feel a sense of belonging
- Form healthy relationships
Basically, cooperation brings out the best in us! In order to successfully cooperate, we need to be thoughtful, respectful, understanding, and empathetic. These characteristics don’t just make our kids better people, they also make our families and communities stronger.
Tips for Teaching Cooperation
Here are a few ways to teach young children the art of cooperation.
Practice Taking Turns and Sharing
Taking turns is a great way to plant the seed of cooperation in early childhood. Babies as young as 6 months can start to learn the rhythm of back-and-forth interactions. You can practice taking turns and sharing with your baby in a variety of ways. Our BabySparks activities such as “Your Turn, My Turn,” “Give and Take,” and “Teamwork” are fun ways to work on these skills.
Problem Solve Together
When you’re faced with a small dilemma, bring your toddler into the conversation to try to problem-solve together. For example, your toddler wants to go outside to play, but it’s too cold. Instead of simply saying, “It’s too cold to play outside,” phrase it as a problem that needs to be solved. “It would be fun to play outside, but we can’t go out there, it’s so cold! What can play with inside?”
Discuss Reasons for Family Rules
Understanding why we have rules is an essential part of learning cooperation. If one of your family rules is to pick up toys before dinner, you can explain: “If someone trips and falls on your toy, they might get hurt! We don’t want anyone to get hurt, right? That’s why we pick up our toys.” Making that connection can help your child start to understand that there are consequences when we don’t follow the rules. Remind him that these rules are in place to benefit the whole family.
Offer Clear Praise
When you see your toddler showing signs of cooperation, offer praise that helps him understand the benefits of his behavior. “Thank you so much for helping me pick up your toys! When we do it together it gets done faster, so now we have time to go to the park.”
Provide Opportunities to Cooperate
Look for different ways to incorporate cooperation lessons throughout the day. When you’re cooking, you can ask your toddler to help mix ingredients in a bowl or wash lettuce. When setting up for an activity, you can ask him to help you gather supplies. Be sure to point out the benefits of cooperation: “It’s so much easier when we do this together.”
Plan a Family Project
Something as simple as putting a puzzle together can help toddlers understand cooperation. Try to plan a project that involves everyone having their own individual task, even your toddler! You can plant flowers in the yard, wash the car together, or cook a family meal. You want him to be able to see how each task comes together to complete a project. Then, discuss how great it is that everyone pitched in to make it a success.
Cooperation is the glue that holds us all together. Children will naturally gravitate towards cooperative tasks the more they witness the wonderful benefits. Even though learning cooperation takes time and practice, your toddler will steadily understand how great it feels to be a part of a team!