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Have you ever found yourself in an unexpected negotiation with your child? It can happen so innocently. When you approach these conversations the right way, you’ll successfully stop negotiating with your child.
Does any of this sound familiar?
“One more minute”.
“I will after I _______________”.
I’ll do _____________ if can I ______________ after I’m done”.
These are all ways that kids engage in their own personal negotiation for what they want. And it’s amazing how they come to it so naturally.
My daughter has a talent for drawing me in. She has mastered the fine art of negotiating at the young age of seven.
But I am firm believer when you get into the habit of negotiating with your child, you are actually teaching them that limits set in the home are movable.
Now don’t get me wrong, I know we have to be flexible and that there is a little bit of negotiating when we parent, but the important part is how we handle those conversations with our kids.
Looking back, I’m amazed how I thought I was giving my daughter consistent and clear direction. I would tell her it was time to brush her teeth and she would ask for 1 more minute. Innocent question, right? I usually responded, “sure honey” and she would take only one more minute. I would tell her that we have to leave to run errands in five minutes but then would allow an extra ten minutes for her to get her things together to go. And other times, I would ask her to finish her vegetables and she would considerately ask “if I do can I have some ice cream?”
Not realizing it, I had taught my daughter that everything was open to negotiation; you just had to ask the right way and mom would consider it. A slippery slope that leads to inconsistency. Suddenly, she heard all initial requests I made as if they were suggestions instead of things she was expected to do.
One of my biggest offenses? Ending a statement with “OK”. In my head I was saying…”two more minutes then we are headed up for a bath, OK?” I asked “OK” for confirmation that she heard me and understood what was going to happen. She heard “OK” as if I was literally asking her if she was okay with only playing for 2 more minutes and then taking bath – as if it was an option. Not at all the same thing and it opened the door to many conversations ending in tears.
One day my husband asked, “Why are you debating with her? Why does she even have a platform to do it?” It’s like a light bulb went on. Why was I giving her a platform to debate everything? So the next time our conversation started to turn into a negotiation, I changed one simple thing – I just didn’t respond. She would ask again, then again, increasing the volume each time hoping that it would generate a response.
My lack of respond completely surprised her. But then I simply started to repeat the initial demand in a calm, kind voice. This conversation played out again and again during the next few days, over every subject imaginable. Amazingly, each time the debating became shorter and less emphatic on her side. In less than a week, my daughter was much more responsive simply because I was no longer sending her confusing signals through inconsistent negotiations.
But my little negotiator wasn’t quite done though. She then learned that instead of asking,” if I do ____, then can I ______?”, it was better to get me to talk more about the details within the request and their importance. In effect getting me to negotiate with myself by drawing me into a conversation. I thought she was simply asking questions about what she needed to do just to make sure that she understood. Wrong! By getting me to engage in a simple conversation about what she was supposed to do, she was actually finding out which of my points were most relevant and which ones had perceived wiggle room.
If I asked her to clean her room, she would brilliantly ask what should be done first. Does it matter? No, but it sure is a conversation starter. And suddenly I would find myself detailing what were the most necessary items to do and what things were of lessor importance, “make your bed and pickup your stuffed animals, put away the books and the doll toys you’re not going to be playing with”. She wasn’t even playing with any dolls but by her simply suggesting she would be later, my short demand of “please clean up your room” had expanded to a conversation of relevancy and exceptions.
How do I clean my room? is a fair question; it’s asking for technique. What to do first? is asking for relevance, and there is no room for relevance, it simply all needs done. She became so clever with this type of engagement. Just getting me to expand on what I was asking opened the door for a negotiation around relevance and almost always with myself. At one point, I just looked at her sweet little face and thought, “you’re really good at this negotiating stuff!”
I decided to just keep things simple and stop talking so much! I simply resorted to short concise demands that I new she understood. After several days of trying to engage me to expand upon my demand, I simply started saying, “you know what to do”. And guess what? It started to work. Simplicity and clarity once again had won the day.
And remember my biggest offense – ending everything with “OK”? One simple change fixed that too. I simply replace “OK” with “do you understand?” and WA-LA! Problem solved.
Now I work hard to not waver and my daughter knows the ultimate result of her attempts (the key to winning any negotiation). In any negotiation, once a party knows the ultimate outcome, they usually come to terms and this certainly applies to little ones as well. Now my daughter on most days knows the ultimate outcome the minute I make my request and so she just does it.
Don’t get me wrong, she still thinks one of these days we’ll revisit these little negotiations and she tests that theory every so often. But I just remind myself that consistency wins the day!
How do you handle negotiating with your child?
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