Cooperation is an important part of relationships, and children learn to respect others and to control their emotions through collaboration. Peer interaction and collaboration starts early in life, and helping your child to understand the value of working well with others is the key to encouraging his cooperation in group activities. Studies have found that families who play together are more cooperative and supportive, and have better communication skills. You can begin to teach your child about the importance of collaboration by taking time to play with him.
Having your child help you with younger siblings or with everyday household routines is a natural and realistic way to show the benefits of collaboration. When you are doing these activities, ask your child “what if” questions that will get him thinking about the importance of teamwork. You can ask him things like, “What if your friend doesn’t want to share his toys with you? What would you do?” Or you can ask him, “What if you get mad at your friends while you are playing with them? How would you solve that problem?”
Include your child while you are running errands to teach him about collaboration. When you are out, point out what’s happening, who the people are, and what they’re doing. For example, if you are at a grocery store, point out what the stock person is doing as he places items on the shelves, and teach your child about what is going on around him. Children of this age notice everything, and you can take advantage of this by pointing out the roles that people play, and how they have to work together toward collective goals. In doing so, you are showing him teamwork in action.
Invite your child’s friends to join your family on outings or just an afternoon at home. When children are given the freedom to engage in play together, it helps them learn how to work well with others, make decisions and solve problems. Make sure that playdates with other children involve actual free play, and not too many structured activities like playing video games or watching television, as this will help your child use his imagination while learning about teamwork. New York City-based teacher Anne Harlam says that the best hands-on method to teach collaboration is to provide your child and his friends with a large-piece floor puzzle, as children this age enjoy them and they offer a great opportunity for a “team goal” group activity. If you support your child’s play, you will help him develop abilities that he will need as a future citizen of the world and you will help him be better-prepared to cooperate with peers, resolve conflicts, and build and maintain friendships.