Inside: 6 strategies to help parents curb negotiating with children. Download your FREE guide to start implementing these today.
Lauren, cheerfully asks if she can have dessert for breakfast every single day. When my friend answers, “No” Lauren shrugs and reaches for non-cake options.
Mom: “Why do you keep asking for sugary breakfasts, even though the answer is always no?”
Lauren explains, “Maybe tomorrow it will be a ‘yes’.”
With optimistic persistence like this, is it any wonder children wear us down?
Every parent must choose how to handle knee-high negotiators.
Sweet newborns seem to grow into expert negotiators overnight. One minute we rock-a-bye babies and the next they argue circles around us.
Imagine a fitbit counter tracking calories we burn explaining and defending our answers.
- Why do I have to go to bed now if I’m not tired?
- But why do I have to wear my coat today?
- Why can’t I finish my round first? If I stop now, Luigi will die and I’ll have to start this level again.
If your Marvin K. Mooney argues at bedtime and your little Yertle pushes to be in charge, this will help. Six strategies, Dr. Seuss style, to help you minimize negotiations with your own cast of characters.
And to keep these strategies within reach, I created a printable you can download at the end of the article. With actionable steps to help minimize negotiations today.
1. Consider each child’s unique triggers
“There’s no one alive who is youer than you” Happy Birthday to You
Each child’s “youness” causes them to negotiate and argue for different reasons.
If our detailed-oriented son does not have enough information about plans, he asks rapid-fire questions out of stress. We minimize his frustration by giving him an outline of the day and involving him in recording details on the calendar.
Our spontaneous son’s questions involve seeking permission to try his latest idea. We try to accommodate his request or suggest alternatives if needed.
Our born leader may try to push this mama into decisions, and will over-negotiate if allowed. We honour his leadership by hearing his input, but also (try to) train him to accept our final decision.
The Stop Negotiating Kit includes a worksheet to help you explore each of your children’s triggers and brainstorm solutions.
2. Understand your child’s perspective
“A person’s a person, no matter how small” Horton Hears a Who
Pausing to really understand our child’s perspective can minimize their frustration.
Recently, I almost brushed off my son’s request to wear sunglasses to school. Thankfully, I listened and learned he had been planning a spy game all week and this spy gear was essential.
When our child is especially easygoing, they may need to be trained to use this phrase: “This is really important to me, Mom.”
Related: How to Empower Your Easygoing Child
Acknowledging a child’s perspective does not negate the importance of training. For example, we know whining may reveal a child is hungry, overtired or needing attention. But we don’t have to accept whining. If a child whines (e.g., “Why do I have to go to bed n-o-w-w-w-w?”) suggest they try again. If necessary, model a better tone and offer them a redo.
And ask children to reflect on their own question. I may say, “Are you asking why you have to wear a coat so you will understand, or to argue with me?” This teaches we will clarify, but not argue. (on a good day – right? If I’m undercaffeinated or overtired I may just try to Make. It. Stop.)
3. Explain your family principles
We empower our children helping them understand the limits.
So when children ask recurring questions, discuss the principles behind your answers. Once they understand our rationale, children will be less likely to argue. Especially if we refer back to the principle if they try again later.
- Questions: Why can’t I eat my dessert first? Why can’t I stay up late?
- Principle: We feel better when we make healthy choices
- Questions: Why can my friend have playdates on school nights? Why can other kids ride their bikes on the road?
- Principle: Different families have different rules.
- Question: Why do I have to do chores?
- Principle: We live like a team and we work like a team
List your child’s most common arguments and family guidelines on the worksheet in the Stop Negotiating Kit. I’ve included a list of principles to help you begin.
And if your child still digs their little heels in, a sprinkle of humor can go a long way: You say you’re never going to bed? Well I think I see a lumpy sack of potatoes that needs to be carried up. I do like to read stories to my potatoes while I tuck ’em in every night.
4. Sometimes timing is everything
“Ask me tomorrow, but not today” Hop on Pop
There is a right time to ask questions. For example, it is not ideal to ask about having a playdate while I am making dinner and calming a crying toddler. In the chaos I will say, “Ask me later.”
If my child persists, I caution, “If you push me for an answer right away it will be ‘no’, but if you ask me after dinner is served I may reconsider.”
When my older children make a last-minute request, I feel my shoulders tense up. My mind starts thinking about all the implications. If I drive you to your friend’s house tonight, dinner will feel rushed. I won’t be available to help your brother with a book report until later. Children only see their ask, but parents have to consider the big picture and the details.
Solution? Set a timer so your child has a visible cue showing when they will have your decision.
If you tell your child you’re going to consider his request for a few minutes, make sure it truly is only for a few minutes…Delaying your answer will only frustrate him, leading him to hound you, and increase the likelihood you will snap out a “no,” just to get him to stop. Empowering Parents
5. When you are willing to negotiate, set boundaries
“I meant what I said and I said what I meant” Horton Hatches an Egg
Negotiating with our children can be a life skill we can help them develop, within guidelines. Scott Brown, a conflict expert, shares negotiating truths we can teach and use:
- Both parties can share their ideas.
- Negotiating involves bargaining, not giving in.
- Remaining calm maximizes our effectiveness.
- Try to find the win-win.
If our child shares their idea and you realize you can give a little, invite them into solving the problem:
You want to stay at the park for a few more minutes? And I need to tidy up at home before I make dinner. Could we find a solution? If you helped me tidy I think we could get it done faster and stay for a few more minutes.
But what if you have a relentless negotiator?
Does your child find loopholes and fire objections that make your head spin? When we fall into a pattern of over-negotiating, we actually teach that our limits are not firm.
“Once you let them over-negotiate or wear you down, then your child never knows if this time he’s going to get lucky…” Living With Little Lawyers
Once negotiations are closed, you have the right to make a fair, final decision. Lynn Lott suggests a technique if your child continues to nag. If you give an answer, and your child begins to protest, ask if they have already asked that question. Then ask if you already answered their question. Teach them “Asked and Answered” to signal it is a done deal.
Photo by Jose Aragones on Unsplash
6. Hold onto hope
“And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed)” Oh The Places You’ll Go
Lucky for us, parenting provides many opportunities to practise new tools we pick up along the way. Consistency will reap stronger relationships, while minimizing conflicts and negotiations.
And find a meaningful way to celebrate even small victories.
After tomorrow’s tomorrow, you may find yourself smiling as your grandchild whines, “But d-a-a-a-a-d” and warms up for a negotiation. Pass along your favourite Dr. Seuss book and wish them both well.
Download Your Free Printable: Stop Negotiating Kit
To start implementing these ideas, you can get my free Stop Negotiating Kit. It includes a two-page summary of this article, simple steps to take action right away and a resource list from experts. Grab your copy here:
- Download the Stop Negotiating Kit: Join my weekly newsletter and as a bonus you can access this free printable workbook.
- Print the Workbook: Put it on the fridge or inside a cupboard to stay on track.
- Fill out the Action Steps: Work through the simple action steps in each section. You will reflect on what triggers each individual child to negotiate. And how you can set your family up for success in advance. Plus, I have compiled the best resources if you want to dive deeper.
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