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How to Negotiate with Your Child: When to Give Choices and When to Stand Your Ground
“I’ll clean my room only if you let Nina come over.” “I’ll eat all my broccoli only if I can have ice cream.” You heard it a dozen times, the “only if” phrase. You used to use it on them yourself, but somehow it got hijacked by your child along the way and now you feel like you are facing a pint-sized lawyer out to negotiate a big deal, only this deal involves housework, food or bedtimes. So are you facing a lawyer-to-be or have you merely created a willful spoiled child?
Should you negotiate with your child? Some parents and specialists1 say “never” because it will just undermine your parenting, while others suggest that negotiating with your child teaches them the important soft skill of learning to deal with conflicts2. In reality, it depends on you and your child.
To Negotiate or Not Negotiate? That is the Question.
Circumstance decrees whether areas are open for negotiation with your child or not.
Non-negotiable: When to stand your ground
Some things in life will be cut and dry – like wearing a seat belt in the car. If they are on the verge of doing something that could be harmful to themselves or others – that’s a resounding ‘No!” Be firm and non-negotiable when it comes to your child’s safety.
Let them know that they will be holding your hands through the busy parking lot or there will be consequences. Follow through with those consequences. Let them know that sitting in that car seat and wearing that seat belt is the law. These are non-negotiable areas. Period.
Open for Negotiation
There are a myriad of areas that can be open for negotiation. Meal time choices, television programs, clothing choices, hair decisions, staying over at friend’s houses. Maybe even to bathe or not to bathe every now and then.
Boost their self confidence by giving them a small victory. This does not mean you are weak and they are strong, but if you gave a resounding no to something they wanted badly, consider why you are saying no in the first place. Is purple hair really that horrific? They may learn their own lesson by living through a week or two of multi-colored locks. Though naysayers may disagree, sometimes you should let them go ahead, negotiate and win.
How to Negotiate with Your Child
Negotiating with your child should not crumble into an all out scream match- that’s a heated argument. Before you begin the fine art of negotiation, check out these tips to help smooth the way.
Don’t be a Dictator: Give Choices
When you bark orders to your child, it is human instinct to want to rebel. You need them to clean the room? Instead of laying down a dictatorial decree, offer choices. Kids love choices because then they feel they have a say in what is going on. The moment your kids hit school, they are told to sit down, be quiet and do their work. This is where rebellion at home rears it’s head. They have a need to rebel against something because they are stripped of control of their life when they are at school.
Instead of declaring war by telling them to clean their room, try a more subtle approach. Would you like to clean your room before dinner or after? Or would you like to clean your room or help your dad clear out the garden shed? You may be surprised at how many kids dive into cleaning that room when presented with a much less favorable option!
Always Keep Your Cool
As any savvy negotiator can tell you, you need to check those emotions in at the door. Always keep your cool in dealing with a child. They may begin to go into melt down mode and you can use distraction and choice-offering tactics instead of yelling. Your emotions, or lack of them, will set the tone for the negotiation.
Do Not Allow Yourself to Be Manipulated
Yes, kids do try and manipulate their parents. If you feel your child is trying to work at your emotions, stop the discussion there. “Mom, we need this puppy! Isn’t he adorable? Didn’t you say I needed a friend? He doesn’t have a home.” Remember to hold those emotions in check. If you live in an apartment with strict rules, adding a dog to the family may not be a logical idea.
If your child throws temper tantrums to get their way – that is manipulation. Do not cave in, you will only be rewarding their behavior and setting the stage for future temper tantrums. Kids are smart. They can see what works. Set consequences for bad behavior, like taking away their favorite game for a week, and carry them through. Let them know that you mean business.
Let Them Know Why You Make Certain Decisions For Them
If you definitely won’t let them go to a certain friends house, let them know why. It may be because there are extremely unstable family dynamics there or an older cousin who drinks too much who hangs at their house – whatever reason, let your child see the situation from your shoes. If you won’t allow them to cross the street alone- maybe there are too many cars on that road, perhaps you witnessed an accident there. Communicate how you see things with them.
Let Them Present Their Case
Allow your child to debate certain decisions with you, like a later bed time or having a friend over on a weekday. Older kids will tend to arm themselves with dozens of good reasons. Listen to their argument and then present yours. Choose a practical solution that will suit both of your needs.
Negotiation is about compromising, not winning or losing. A 30 minute later bedtime after Spring Break is over, contingent on your child’s ability to get themselves ready for school on time, or a lax bedtime on weekends if waking up is a problem. And as for that weekday sleepover? Will both children get any sleep at all? Maybe Friday night would be a better day.
Know You Are the Captain
Always remember that there can only be one captain on a boat, and that is you. You are always the boss. You are the adult, after all. You may be open for negotiations on certain subjects, but any decision that comes from negotiation with your child must be acceptable to you in the end.
Whether or not you decide to let your child negotiate with you is your option. Give them choices instead of dictatorial decrees to alleviate arguments. Remember safety comes first and there are certain areas that are non-negotiable. Listen to them and explain why you make certain decisions and always check your emotions in at the door. Who knows, your little master negotiator may become a lawyer one day.
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