Thoughtful Parenting: Negotiation 101
Children start negotiating at an early age. Perhaps they’re in the “no” or even “no way!” stage. If your child is a little older, he might say, “But I want to …” or “Why can’t I just …” Maybe it’s wanting to watching two videos instead of one, playing past bedtime, not eating vegetables, or wearing shorts in December. The list is endless. As adults, we have an endless list too!
Listening to and validating your child’s preferences give him confidence that his opinions matter. However, as a parent, you have to make decisions as to whether these preferences are in his best interest. Children will want things that may have negative consequences, and often, you must insist that he abide by particular rules to stay safe or be healthy.
Many times, there’s a way to honor some part of his request. Perhaps the trickiest part of negotiating is finding a way to do all of this while staying calm. When your child is screaming, yelling or being so persistent that the only way to make it stop is to “give in,” he learns, “Wow! If I only scream loud and long enough, I’ll get my way.” When you feel tired and irritated, it’s hard to figure out what to do.
How do you balance listening to preferences, teaching effective negotiation skills and drawing limits? Start with taking a breath and consider, is this a situation where there’s a safety concern, it’s just an inconvenient time to negotiate or you have an extra minute? Encourage your child to share their preferences: “What’s important to you?,” “Why is that important to you?,” “Tell me more” or “I can tell that this is important to you.” When your child is upset or very persistent, you may have to postpone the discussion. “I want to hear more about what you want. You’re yelling and seem very upset. This is not a good time to solve the problem. We’re going to wait a few minutes to talk about it when you and I are more calm.”
Give and take is part of negotiation. Compromising doesn’t mean your child wins, you lose and your authority is undermined. You child is paying attention to how you negotiate with her — kind words, including her ideas and giving a rationale behind your decision. Many times, you will make the final decision, and she will feel sad, disappointed and even angry. Acknowledge these feelings and coach her through them. “It looks like you’re unhappy with what I’m saying” or “I’m guessing you feel disappointed.” You also can point out how good it feels when a decision is made that includes both of your preferences: hers — the super-sparkly, blue shirt; yours — the shirt fits the dress code and your budget.
For some of these ideas and others, visit http://www.pbs.org/parents/talkingwithkids/negotiate_2.html.
Barbara Gueldner, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist specializing in children and families. She is a member of First Impressions, the Early Childhood Council of Routt County. Find her at http://www.successfulkidstoday.com.
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