Elements of a Confident Kid…Alliance Building

Alliance building by Jennifer Miller

Elements of a Confident Kids by Jennifer Miller

: a union between people, groups or countries: a relationship in which people agree to work together.1

There will be numerous opportunities throughout a child’s academic years to practice engaging in an alliance. Individuals need not agree on interests or even like each other to form one. Alliances are often temporary and formed with a shared goal in mind. Maybe a group of students are assigned to work with one another to build a simple machine. The group comes together for that purpose and then, when the project is completed, may not work together again. Or some alliances can span years such as with a cohort in an intervention pull-out program that serves as a critical support throughout the elementary school years. At the cornerstone of a successful alliance is collaboration.

Because throughout a lifetime, there will be a host of times when an alliance is necessary to achieve a goal, it’s worth exploring its attributes. At core, an alliance presents a child or an adult with some of the greatest challenges to his or her social and emotional intelligence. It requires the individual to be open-minded, willing to negotiate, effective at both listening and communicating, able to check biases and appreciate diversity and participate in collaborative problem-solving.

The handbook, Collaboration; What Makes It Work (2nd Ed.)2 claims there are twenty factors that research confirms contribute to the success of a collaboration. Though these relate to more formalized community collaborations, many of the factors in the areas of environment, memberships characteristics, process and structure, communication, purpose and resources can be applied to smaller, more informal alliances. These success factors are:

  • the history of the collaboration in the community
  • whether the group is seen as a legitimate leader in its community
  • favorable political and social climate
  • mutual respect, understanding and trust
  • appropriate cross section of members representative of key stakeholders
  • members see collaboration as their own self-interest
  • ability to compromise
  • members sharing a stake in both process and outcome
  • multiple layers of participation
  • flexibility
  • development of clear roles and policy guidelines
  • adaptability
  • appropriate pace of development
  • open and frequent communication
  • established informal relationships and communication links
  • concrete, attainable goals and objectives
  • shared vision
  • unique purpose
  • sufficient funds, staff, material and time
  • skilled leadership

So how does a parent promote successful collaboration and the ability to participate in an alliance?
Often we, as parents, have to diagnose the root cause of problems when our child comes home from school upset about a group in which he is participating. When a child becomes part of an alliance, listen for challenges and provide coaching. Consider the following questions and see if they help you become a better coach for your child.

1. Is your child struggling with self-awareness? Does your child have a sense of his own role in the group, both his strengths and limitations? If you directly point them out, you may be met with with a defensive response. Instead ask good questions about his role. His responses will help you better understand the circumstances and may shed some light for him on how he is showing up in the group. Some examples might be:
– What is your role in the group?
– How do you feel about your role in the group?
– How do you plan to contribute?
– How does that particular contribution relate to the overall goal for the group?
– Where do you feel your best skills, talents and interests lie related to the goal?
– Are there other ways you could contribute that use those talents and interests?

2. Is your child struggling with self-management? Self-control in a group setting can be tough when there are competing desires for contribution. “I want to be the one who gets to stand up and read for the group!” asserts one child. “Why do you get to?” asks another. Suspending his own impulses and thinking about what might be his own best role to move the group forward can be difficult. Ask some questions in this area to both better understand the group dynamics and also help your child see some alternatives.
– How is the group struggling?
– Who is involved and what roles do they play?
– What is the ultimate goal for the group?
– What are the strengths of each member?
– Does each member have a clear role? If not, how could you each define your role?
– What are some other ways to deal with competing desires and roles so that everyone gets a chance to do something important to contribute?

3. Is your child struggling with social awareness? It’s easy to get stuck in your own perspective if a group is taking sides. Help your child step out of that limited thinking by asking some of the following questions.
– What is the purpose of your group?
– What are the strengths of each of your teammates?
– What are challenges or limitations of your teammates? How can you best understand how those individuals feel about those limitations?
– If each person in the alliance must play a significant role in contributing to reaching your goal, how can each member contribute at least one of their strengths?

4. Is your child struggling with relationship skills? Alliances will certainly put communication skills to the test. Whether its listening effectively and with empathy or adding to the conversation in ways that are not offensive or blaming, it can be a real challenge to work as a team with those who have differing perspectives. Adults in the workplace have great challenges with this so children on teams have a significant opportunity to learn this skill in safe, low risk conditions. Try out some of these questions when you sense your child is challenged by relationship skills.
– Who are you struggling with?
– Why and how do they make you feel?
– What are their contributions to the team? If they are not currently contributing, what do they have the potential to contribute?
– How could you help them feel accepted and important to the team?
– How could you encourage them to make a contribution?

5. Is your child struggling with responsible decision making? Alliances often will have to make multiple decisions if they are attempting to achieve a goal working together. Perhaps, there are struggles with who gets to make the decisions or how they are made. Whether an individual is making a decision or a team is, there are numerous questions that will benefit the decision-makers to consider first before acting. It helps to consider other similar decisions that have already been made and the consequences of those actions to learn from others.
– The second graders built a simple machine as a team last year. What choices did
they make?
– What happened as a result of their choices?
– How did those choices affect the team?
– Was there any lasting impact on the project or on its team members?
– What can your team learn from their experiences?

Often, as parents, we hear secondhand about the challenges our children may have in the neighborhood with friends or with a group of students at school. We are placed in a position of limited knowledge since we were not a part of the situation. Asking kids good questions can not only lead to our better understanding but can also lead children to their own solutions for working together more effectively.


Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved on 2-3-15 from

Mattessich, P.W., Murray-Close, and M., Monsey, B.R. (2001). Collaboration: What Makes It Work (2nd Ed.) Saint Paul, MN: Fieldstone Alliance.

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