Cooperation Station

July 12, 2017

By Guest Contributor and Wise Family Clinician – Kasey Cain, Resident in Counseling

I have recently been hearing a lot in the world of school and work that we are in the social age of collaboration. While the world is certainly connected in new and amazing ways, I believe we have always been social beings and that collaboration has always helped communities grow and thrive.  Collaboration is a key skill that, when developed, will support our children’s success throughout their school age years and beyond. However, for many of our children, in particular those with social communication challenges, cooperation does not come naturally.


Cooperation is more complicated than it may seem.  Effective cooperation draws up the ability to focus, exercise self-control,  and think about someone else’s needs, wants, and perspectives.  When we are asking children to cooperate we are expecting them to follow rules, listen, take turns, ask questions to to get information or seek help, stay with the group and on task, and express their thoughts and feelings all at the same time.  It is very complex and requires explicit instruction.

A key aspect of cooperation is being a part of the group and being able to truly listen and engage.  We teach this through a Social Thinking concept called whole body listening.  You will find additional information about whole body listening below. The lyrics to a song called “Listen with All of You” is also helpful in understanding how to listen and engage.  To hear the song please click here.

Also, to learn more about whole body listening, click here.

Whole body listening is just one part of the cooperation equation.  To truly learn the other pieces, ample opportunity for practice is needed.  One way to practice cooperation is through play.  Some of my favorite cooperative activities are working together to complete a puzzle or create a structure from blocks.  Also, there is a fun line of board games from Peaceable Kingdom in which everyone playing works together to get the treasure or create a spell to reach success.

As parents, caregivers, and educators, we must be sure to model the cooperative behavior we hope to develop in our children.  We can model waiting our turn patiently, and talk out what we might be thinking if our plan doesn’t work or if something isn’t going “just right.” It is helpful to think out loud: talk through the steps and don’t just assume your child is making the connections. While playing, use phrases like “Man, I really want to go but I have to wait for my turn,” or “I wanted to do it all by myself, but when we did it together it was even better!”

When you see behaviors you like, praise with specific observations of cooperative behavior.  For example, instead of saying “Good job!”, try “I notice how you waited your turn so patiently!”  Also, one of the hardest things for us to do is put those cell phones down and really be in the game, but if we want our kids to focus we need to show them how it can be done.

Lastly, some of our children need a bit of extra help with figuring out what to say to others in group work.  Giving your child polite and easy phrases to use can really help in the moment.  Here are a few we worked on today:

  • Can I help you?
  • It is my turn.
  • Please wait.
  • Can someone help me?
  • Do you have an idea?
  • I feel frustrated.  I need a break.
  • No thank you, I want to try by myself.

Understanding how others feel and appropriately responding to that is another aspect of cooperation.


(Content written in collaboration with Lipsett Learning Connection.)

About Kasey:
Kasey is a mom to two fabulous daughters, loves mint chocolate chip ice cream, and loves to dance. She has very acute hearing and can track multiple conversations at once! She loves to read and take naps in her spare time. Kasey’s knowledge of the school system and best practices for teaching and learning, paired with her honed counseling skills, leaves her expertly suited to work with children and their families. She believes in the power of play and that all behavior is communication.

She holds a Masters in Education for School Counseling and a Post Counseling Licensure Certificate in Community Counseling. She is actively pursuing licensure in Virginia as a Licensed Professional Counselor. Her professional journey has included teaching, working at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum education programming department, and community counseling. Since 2006, she has worked in Fairfax County Public schools as an Elementary Professional School Counselor and as a Resource Counselor for School Counseling Services in FCPS’s central office.


Until next week, Be Wise!