You say, ‘It’s time for bed’, ‘It’s time to go’, ‘It’s time for homework’, ‘It’s dinnertime!’ But your child says, ‘Five more minutes’. You’re tired of saying ‘no’ and tired of fighting. So what do you do? Give in? Blow up? Or – negotiate?
Life with kids often involves negotiation, whether we like it or not. According to Scott Brown, author of How to negotiate with kids even when you think you shouldn’t, ‘The negotiation between parents and kids can actually be a great learning experience for your kids. If you don’t negotiate, your children may not learn how to deal with conflicts constructively. If you don’t teach them how to work with you, they may never learn how to work with others’.
But negotiating with kids is often a challenging process. ‘Parents need to learn how to manage their own emotions and frustrations. One thing we know from observing negotiators of all ages is that when emotions run high, negotiating skill drops dramatically’, says Brown, who has worked internationally in conflict resolution.
Before you enter your next negotiation with your child (and that could be in five minutes!), read on and get pointers for negotiating with kids and more.
Tips for negotiating
Start an agreement, not an argument. Phrase your requests so that your child can say ‘yes’. Your child will listen more readily if you phrase your idea in a way that appeals to your child’s need for control and independence. If you say, ‘Would you like to set out the plates or the spoons?’ you are more likely to get cooperation than if you say, ‘Set the table NOW!’
Get your child involved. If it’s getting near bedtime, you might say, ‘How many minutes do you think you should have to finish this project and get in bed on time?’ If you are discussing discipline, you might ask, ‘What do you think would be a reasonable consequence for hitting me?’ or ‘… for not doing your chores?’
Explain your point of view. You could say, ‘We have to leave the playground because I have to make dinner’. Once you explain what’s on your mind, remain open to any response. If your child says, ‘I don't care, I’m not hungry’, you might say, ‘But I am and so is your brother’.
Know that negotiation doesn’t mean giving in. When you negotiate to buy a new car, you’re not giving in – you’re bargaining. Keep in mind that negotiating is not about winning and losing.
Negotiate issues in age-appropriate ways. If your school-age child doesn’t like peas, you might ask, ‘What vegetable would you like instead?’ If your preschooler is not interested in eating at all, instead of arguing, you might consider playfully cutting a sandwich into interesting shapes to make it more appealing.
Respond to criticism with a reasonable question. If your child tells you to stop nagging about cleaning the bedroom or have a bath, you might say, ‘How would you manage this yourself? When would you like to do it?’
Take time to cool down. If your child is making you angry or just plain crazy, go into the other room and calm down before trying to talk. Scott Brown, author of How to negotiate with kids even when you think you shouldn’t, suggests that you think about whether an emotional response from will you ease the conflict or dig a deeper hole.
Write down solutions. Get the family together and appoint a secretary who makes a list of everyone’s ideas. Discuss them openly but don’t allow criticism of anyone’s idea. Also consider doing your negotiation in writing. Writing notes to an older child, such as, ‘Clean room at 5 pm’, might prompt more cooperation than nagging would.
Let your child win sometimes. Pick your battles wisely and remember that changing your mind does not mean you’re losing. You might say, ‘OK, I agree with you. But let’s make a deal that next time you will listen to me before blowing up’.
Remember, you have the final say. You don’t have to reach consensus in any negotiation. Sometimes, somebody just has to make a decision. ‘It’s perfectly OK for parents to make the final decision, as long as they have heard their children’s point of view and tried to be fair’, says Brown. ‘Children will come to respect that; they may not like it, but they will come to realise that it’s fair.’
There are times to negotiate and times not to negotiate
None of us has time to negotiate every conflict but we all negotiate our way through parenting whether we realise it or not. So, the question is not ‘Should I negotiate?’ but ‘When and how?’ Keep in mind that some issues are not negotiable (safety, health) and some times are not appropriate to negotiate at all.
– Scott Brown, author of How to negotiate with kids even when you think you shouldn’t