Emotional Connection: The Key to Your Child's Cooperation

If you want your child to cooperate or obey, you may not need to be more authoritative, but rather increase your emotional connection.
Emotional Connection: The Key to Your Child's Cooperation
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 18 March, 2023

Parenting isn’t an easy task; it requires patience, perseverance, and a lot of awareness. Often, parents don’t have the necessary information and tools for parenting. Therefore, even if they have the best intentions, sometimes the methods they use aren’t the most effective. Therefore, the home turns into a battlefield. But how can we avoid this? The key lies in emotional connection.

When asking themselves what to do to make a child cooperate, obey, or follow instructions, many adults appeal to discipline. In this regard, it’s common to use threats, insistence, shouting, or bribery to make a child pick up their room, go take a shower, or finish their homework. However, we can’t forget that parent-child dynamics aren’t a mechanical activity, but a human bond.

The importance of emotional connection

When it comes to parenting, there are multiple styles that can be implemented. It’s up to each family to choose the one that best suits their personalities and processes. However, there’s strong evidence that not all are equally positive. Democratic styles have been shown to be the most beneficial. In fact, children raised under these parameters are happier, more mature, and more autonomous.

But what characterizes these parenting styles? Well, on the one hand, they show clear rules and firm limits. On the other hand, they offer high levels of affection and emotional connection. This is the winning combination if we want to raise healthy and successful children. In addition, it’s also the key to achieving cooperation, a harmonious home environment, and a non-conflictive bond between parents and children.

In other words, if your child is rebellious and defiant, you probably don’t need to be more authoritarian, but rather cultivate a greater emotional connection with them. Children need to feel loved, accepted, listened to, and taken into account by their role models. If these ingredients are absent, behavioral problems tend to appear.

A mother and her daughter looking one another in the eye, smiling, and touching hands.
When there’s a secure attachment between parent and child, little ones gain confidence in themselves and in others, learn to manage their sensations, and create a solid emotional connection with their caregivers.

The basis of respectful parenting

Respectful parenting promotes an educational style centered on childhood, that is, on children’s interests and needs. It’s based on the foundation of a secure attachment bond. This is the main task to be addressed as a parent, as it lays the foundation for good cognitive, emotional, and relational functioning in the child.

A secure attachment is achieved when parents are sensitive to the child’s needs and tend to them in a coherent and consistent manner. When faced with a physical demand (for food or hygiene) or an emotional one (such as the need for contact or support in case of a tantrum), adults are present and available. They empathize, act calmly, and help the child regulate.

Use emotional connection to get your child to cooperate

With all this in mind, keep in mind that such a bond isn’t forged instantly, but through a consistent style of relating to your child from birth. However, there are some guidelines that can help you use this connection to redirect or motivate children’s behavior.

Understand your child’s need

Every child’s behavior sends us a message that we must decipher. Misbehavior is never intended to cause annoyance or hurt but rather reflects a need. For example, an infant who drags a chair does so because they’re interested in performing or practicing that type of movement. Likewise, a child who screams or disobeys may be seeking parental attention and presence.

Before scolding or judging their behavior, try to understand the hidden message and show an interest in what your child needs at that moment.

Educate positively

Once the need is understood, the key is to redirect the situation in order to meet the need. For example, you can give the infant a toy cart with wheels so they can push and pull it, rather than the chair. Or, for the child with challenging behavior, you can give them the attention they’re looking for and offer to do an activity together.

Therefore, try to educate without saying “no ” as much as possible. For example, instead of saying “don’t drag the chair”, “don’t shout”, or “don’t kick balls in the house”, you offer a valid alternative that the child can do and that doesn’t cause harm. This way, you’re not trying to impose yourself, but rather help your child to satisfy that need in an appropriate way.

In addition, you can involve your child in the search for these alternatives. For example, ask, “What else do you think we could play at home instead of ball games? Thanks to this, they’ll feel that they’re taken into account, will better understand the reason, and will learn to regulate themself and look for solutions on their own.

A black mother and her daughter touching forheads lovingly.
On the way to building an emotional connection, it’s essential that your child feels that their emotions are heard, understood, and attended to.

Validate their emotions

Before losing your temper and focusing on telling them what they should and shouldn’t do, take a moment to calmly welcome and validate your child’s feelings. For example, you can say “I understand you’re bored and want to play ball, but doing it indoors can break things.” Or “you’re upset because you don’t want to go take a shower, right? I don’t feel like it sometimes either.”

This doesn’t imply that you’ll give in to the child’s wishes or allow them to overstep boundaries. It’s simply a question of showing them that you understand their feelings and accompanying them. From this understanding and connection, it’s easier for them to cooperate.

Offer clear guidelines and consistent consequences

Finally, make sure that the rules to be followed are clear to the child and that the consequences are consistent and known in advance. Many times, we make the mistake of punishing misbehaviors and doing so based on how we feel. Therefore, on a day when parents are calmer, a behavior has hardly any consequences, but when they’re having a bad day, the punishment for the same behavior is disproportionate.

This undermines trust and destroys the consistency of the limits you’ve set. So, make sure your child knows what’s expected of them and what consequences they’ll face if they don’t comply. These should be tailored and related to the specific behavior, and they should always be enforced, regardless of your mood. You can even apply them without having to get angry with your child because it’s the consequences that teach the lesson and not your anger.

Educating and always offering unconditional love (I love you and treat you well even when you make a mistake) are greatly beneficial for the emotional security of a child.

Generate a bond of love and respect

In short, emotional connection allows children to feel safe at home and with their reference figures. Thanks to it, they understand that adults only want what’s best for them and that they’re there to accompany, guide, and orient them, and not just to seek their obedience. This bond of love and mutual respect will make living together and parenting much easier.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Baumrind, D. (1967). Child care practices anteceding three patterns of preschool behavior. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 75(1), 43–88.
  • González, M. & Sáenz, N. (2020). Crianza Respetuosa: Hacia una parentalidad centrada en las niñas y los niños. Estudios, (41). https://revistas.ucr.ac.cr/index.php/estudios/article/view/44887

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.