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The Beauty of Skill Work

We have consistently observed over 40 years of working with kids and families that the teaching of basic social skills regarding Mutual Respect is the quickest and surest way of increasing harmony and comfort inside the home. Children and teens who have developed habits that demonstrate mutual respect also function well in all social situations such as school, jobs, and group activities such as sports or clubs.

  • When we focus on skills leading to mutual respect we place our attention on the underlying concept/issue and not on the emotional conflict of the topic of the moment. In this manner, we are able to side step or diffuse our child’s desire to turn the topic of the moment into a debate about our mood, tone, or control.
  • When we focus on the mastering the skill of Following Instructions we emphasize our child’s ability to cooperate and complete assigned tasks. We are helping our child learn how to execute directives to a stated standard and specification.
  • When we focus on the skill of Accepting No it is more abut helping them learn how to handle disappointment and less about whether they can have ice cream at a given moment, or getting into an argument about turning off their screens for awhile.
  • When we focus on the skill of Accepting Criticism it becomes more about helping your child be able to accept the guidance, feedback, and observations of others and less about the specific content of what’s being said at the moment. Accepting Criticism is more about listening to others feelings and perspectives and less about becoming reflexively defensive or emotionally aggressive. In the long run, your child’s ability to stay calm when receiving feedback will increase their positive self-regard and relationships with others.
  • When we help them master skills of Cooperation and Respectwe are able to avoid power struggles by depersonalizing the emotional tension/conflict of the moment. Instead of engaging in an argument we can bring the focus back to our care and concern for their welfare and success.

By focusing on the underlying skill and not on the topic we are able to get on their side and help them with the skill. We can avoid a battle of wills or trying to arm wrestle them into doing what we say in the moment. We compassionately assist them in being able to handle disappointment, cooperate with others, and not be reactive to the observations of others.

  • When we teach skills of Respect and Cooperation we are able to keep our expectations high. When we emphasize skills over topics, our high expectations can be more about our helping our kids to be happy, productive, and successful and less about them feeling harassed, bossed around, or forced to do our every bidding. When we focus on skills of Respect and Cooperation it makes it easier for our children to see and feel our care and concern and harder for them to perceive us as mean or dictatorial.

Wow, so teaching skills of Cooperation and Respect helps us avoid power struggles and helps our children see us as being on their side. How cool is that?

The Four Basic Skills of Respect and Cooperation

One of the practical and conceptual centerpieces of The Parental Tool Box is The Four Basic Skills of Respect and Cooperation. I would like to take a few minutes to explain their importance both in terms of harmonious communication as well as the therapeutic tasks that are accomplished by the mastering of these skills.

Please take a moment to look over the chart below. When looking at the chart please take note of the following: in the left column you will see each individual skill followed by their steps/components. As an example the steps to Following Instruction are:

  1. Make Eye Contact
  2. Say OK
  3. Repeat Back Instruction
  4. Do the Task Assigned
  5. Check Back When Task Is Complete

On the right side you will see a few of the therapeutic tasks/challenges that are met by the mastery of the skill. A detailed discussion of the chart and its significance will follow below.

Each skill on the left is a foundational skill allowing for developing the skills on the right in the box with the corresponding color.

So, let’s begin with the therapeutic reasoning behind calling the skills outlined above as The Four Basic Skills of Respect and Cooperation. We intentionally framed the goal to be about respect and cooperation rather than in words such as obedience and compliance. Terms such as obedience and compliance smack of control and having power over someone and can easily become a trigger when used with our older children resulting in power struggles and acts of defiance in our teens and preteens. 

  • When we frame our teaching in gentler terms such as mutual respect and cooperation it reminds us to have our teaching focus on our care and concern for their welfare and self-esteem. Such framing assists us in having our voice tone, words and gestures be firm but supportive rather than exhibiting a level of anger and frustration in their not obeying or listening to us..
  • When we focus on cooperation and mutual respect it is easy for us to have our child see the overall benefits of skill mastery to themselves and their relationship with others. In this manner the use of the skills has them feel more socially competent and has them feel better about themselves as a person. When focussing on cooperation rather than on obedience they are able to see the benefits and payoffs rather than on their just succumbing to our will and authority.

Each of the four basic skills contain a lot of potential benefits which is what the right hand column in the chart above identifies. We will now go skill by skill and expand on the ideas in the right hand column.

Follow Instructions

A child learning how to improve their ability to Follow Instructions is also expanding their skill set in a number of important personal and social areas. Each step/component of the skill contains potential long term personal benefits.

  • The ability to successfully follow an instruction is dependent on our child becoming a good and focused listener. The ability to listen to and process what others are saying is a crucial element of almost any social interaction your child will have through out, not only their childhood, but their entire life.
  • Listening and following the instructions of teachers, coaches and employers is an obvious benefit to kids be they 5 or 20. The mastery of this skill will make them more successful in the world. The ability to listen to and process what a person is saying is also important in all personal relationships and friendships. 
  • When a person doesn’t listen well or doesn’t process what they are being told it makes it very difficult for them to please others or successfully get things done in any group activity. A child who masters the ability to follow instructions will be able to execute all duties and responsibilities in various settings. Their self-esteem will be raised by their level of competence and their ability to fulfill the basic duties and responsibilities that are required of them.
  • A person who is able to follow instructions is viewed and treated as someone who is dependable and trustworthy. Their learning how to repeat instructions back helps ensure that they fully understand what the task involves so that they can do it quickly and accurately saving them time in not needing to redo what they missed, or have done things that weren’t required. 

The list of personal benefits and payoffs to alert your child to are numerous. They would include efficiency or time, the building of trust, improved peer relations, improved competence and self-esteem, and the freedom and autonomy that is the natural outcome of people trusting and appreciating their efforts.

When we center our teaching on respect and cooperation we are more able to have our child see and crave the benefits of mastering the skills. In this manner our children can see and feel our care, concern and support which often gets lost in the power struggles that result when compliance, obedience and doing things just “Because I said so,” are front and center.

So, by focusing on the skill rather than the topic of the moment where able to have our child see that we are on their side and trying to have them practice and improve a skill which will bring them success in other situations. So, rather than our child focusing on our “making” them put their clothes away in a specific manner, it can become helping them practice the skills necessary to hear and understand what their teacher is saying when they assign math homework.

Accept No

The ability to be able to Accept No is also very important for our kids to master, in both a practical and emotional sense. It is hard to imagine any aspect of our kids lives which won’t be positively impacted by their ability to Accept No.

  • A child who can accept no is one that can handle disappointment and be resilient in difficult or challenging situations. As parents of kids of almost any age we can find many opportunities to sympathize with our child’s struggles with handling disappointment. In this manner we are able to teach to the skill of accepting no, even when it doesn’t pertain to something they are directly requesting form us.
  • The world says to no to us in many ways each and every day. Our child will experience a form of no every time they want something to happen and it is denied to them. This could be not making a team, getting a bad grade, dinner being late, not being able to go outside when it is raining, not being included in a group, or having to be in a classroom when they would rather be outside. A child who knows how to use the skill of accepting no will have the maturity to handle their disappointment and have it not cause any lasting harm to the quality of their day.
  • Almost every parent has told their child to share a toy with another child. In this situation the parent is both the person telling their child that “No”, they have to stop playing with the toy and share it with another child. The parent then gets to console their child in the emotional pain of handling the disappointment and loss in stop playing. Then the parent gets to praise their child for being so kind, generous and mature by sharing the toy with their friend. 
  • A parent who teaches the skill of Accepting No is able to get the focus off of the specific activity or request being denied and unto their growing ability to handle disappointment and helping them focus on what they options they can do at the moment, and off of what they are being denied. Often the best way to deal with disappointment and being told No regarding a specific desire/request is to find something fun, pleasurable or rewarding to do in its place.
  • A person who is able to Accept No is also a person who knows how to say no to peers when they try to have them engage in dangerous or unhealthy activities that could be potentially harmful in the long run. 

The list of admirable skills a child can be praised in demonstrating when they Accept No and handle disappointment is quite lengthy. The more frequently you can identify and praise these qualities and attitudes the better. A short list of some of the related skills and aptitudes fostered when a child, teenager and young adult is able to accept no would include the following: flexibility, patience, compassion, empathy, delayed gratification, cooperation, teamwork and kindness.

A child who has mastered the skill of Accepting No learns how to pass up immediate pleasures for long term gain and how to be disciplined. A person who can Accept No can respect the privacy and integrity of others in all friendships and intimate relationships. A person who can Accept No is one who can accommodate the wishes and preferences of others and does not expect others or the world in general to always make accommodations or adjustments to their preferences and wishes.

Accept Criticism

Parents and direct care staff find the resistances to learning The Four Basic Skills of Respect and Cooperation fall away the more a child is assisted in seeing the personal benefits and payoffs of using the skills. So, let’s explore the positive messages you can associate with the skill of Accepting Criticism:

  • A person able to Accept Criticism is able to reduce the feeling of being attacked or devastated by the observations of others even if done in a harsh manner. We can help our child deal with criticism if we show them the positive roles that criticism play in many people’s lives. The criticism and high standards of instructors, teachers and bosses often challenge people to accomplish great things. Seldom do people become great athletes without years of coaches raising the bar of expectation through frequent criticisms. The same is true for dancers, artists, musicians as well as a countless other disciplines and professions.
  • A person able to Accept Criticism is able to learn from the perspectives and observations of others and is able to develop the discipline, determination and focus to excel in the their field of interest. A person who can accept criticism is able to avoid  becoming defeated by their own self-criticism or become their own worst enemy. A person able to **Accept Criticism** is able to meet the challenges of life in a healthy manner neither expecting constant success nor being destroyed by set backs.
  • A person who can **Accept Criticism** is able to implement feedback and enjoy the daily process of becoming a better and more functional human being. A parent who gives criticism as a way of creating success and improving their child’s skills in much of what they do will find their child develop the resources it takes to turn criticism into a fuel for personal growth.

Respectfully Disagree

The skill of Respectfully Disagree is important in that it gives your child a vehicle to express their ideas and concerns thereby reducing the tendency to view all our teaching as a master plan to completely control and dominate their lives. It lets them tangibly see and experience that we our objections and boundaries are usually more about how and when they choose to express their feelings and not on the content of their concerns.

  • A child who learns how to master the skill of Respectfully Disagree is better able to express their concerns in a manner which doesn’t anger, frustrate, alienate or trigger their audience. In this manner they are able to be heard when they ask for exceptions to rules, express concerns or offer alternative plans. 
  • The steps/components of Respectfully Disagreeing improve their skills in conflict resolution and problem solving allowing them to replace arguments and threats with cooperation and mutual accommodation. Children with this skill are able to learn when and how to best self-advocate in all social situations outside the home (school, work, organized activity, etc.).

The parents play a vital role in our child’s mastery of these Four  Basic Skills of Respect and Cooperation. When it comes to the skill of Respectfully Disagree it is important that they experience some success when they use the skill. This is not to imply that you have to agree with them or back off your standards and expectations when they Respectfully Disagree.

Yet, you should frequently find/create opportunities for them to use the formal skill when you would be open to a plan of action they might suggest. You should also frequently let them know how proud you are of them one they speak in such a mature and respectful manner.

The last step of Accept Decision is as important as any other component of Respectfully Disagreeing. The skill only works or is mastered when your child is able to accept your decision and not either argue or try to wear you down by endlessly using the steps leading up to your decision. Likewise, your child is never going to put much effort into mastering the skill of Respectfully Disagree if they feel or experience no benefit or success.


The process of skill mastery is quickened the more we role model the skills to our kids. The better our listening skills, attitude, flexibility and consistency the easier it is for our kids to use a respectful voice tone and presence. Generally, the better you become at giving criticism, the better your child will be at accepting/receiving criticism.

Yet, both we and our child will make many mistakes on the road to being more respectful in word and manner. We need to be patient with ourselves as well as our child. It is best if we learn to approach each situation as an opportunity to use and make habitual the Four Basic Skills of Respect and Cooperation

The skills are an excellent opportunity to shift the focus from power struggles to care and concern for our child’s immediate and long term success by the mastery of the skills of Respect and Cooperation. The more often we include the benefits and general auxiliary skills on the left hand column of the chart into our teaching, the easier is will become for our kids to see and feel that we are on their side and much of what we instruct, critique and deny is based on our hopes for them to develop the necessary skills to be happy and fulfilled adults.

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