Parenting is a delicate process where it is important to balance saying yes to certain things, no to some others and to negotiate with children to find a middle ground once a while. Negotiation is this art of discussing issues over which there is a conflict and reaching an outcome that both parties agree upon.
So, why is important to negotiate with children? Parents often think that giving in to their child’s demands or even negotiating decreases their authority. This is not true! Negotiating can help you hone the ability to hear and respond to your child in a thoughtful manner. As your child gets older, they will want more independence. Support your child’s independence by providing alternative options and negotiating, instead of saying no all the time.
Here are a few tips on how to negotiate with children gently and without causing friction and frustration.
Communication is crucial
Parents often snap out a ‘no’ even before they have heard out what the child wants. The key here is to listen before giving an answer. Feel free to ask them questions and get all the information. Also make your expectations clear.
If your 8-year-old son wants to go over to a friend’s house, make it clear under what conditions your answer would be yes. For example, “You can go over if his parents are home and you don’t go beyond their yard.” This sets out the rule that if the friend’s parents are not home, your son cannot go or that he cannot go over to the mall with his friend without letting you know.
Think before giving an answer
Children can have a lot of demands. Your 5-year-old wants to use his screen time and your immediate response is ‘no’, only to later realize that this would have kept him busy while you completed your other chores. Changing your mind after he’s repeatedly pleaded / thrown a tantrum with you makes it look like you have “given in” even though that’s not the reason you changed your mind. This only encourages him to keep trying to push / throw a tantrum in the future. Instead, probably negotiate by asking him to divide the next 40 minutes into 20 minutes of reading and 20 minutes of screen time!
Give a timely response
Your child wants to go for an overnight hike and says his friend’s parents would be around to supervise. You may want to have a little chat with his friend’s parents before giving him permission. If you tell your child that you will speak to them and get back to him in a few hours, make sure you do. Don’t keep your child waiting forever.
Involve your child in the decision-making
After listening to your child and setting your expectations, there may be situations where you simply cannot agree to your child’s demands. In such situations, involve your child in coming to a decision. Your 14-year-old wants to go clubbing with her friends because one of them is moving out of town permanently. You do not find it appropriate for her to be in a club. Let her know of your concerns. Find an alternative – maybe they can have a sleepover at your house where you allow them to order in their favourite meals. This gives them an opportunity to spend time together and also puts you at ease.
As important as negotiation is, sometimes it is inevitable to say no. The ‘how’ of negotiation is often as important as the final outcome. It is imperative to weigh your responses and settle matters reasonably. You will notice that your child feels respected and this in turn will encourage her to cooperate with you.
Moreover, children are learning and absorbing with every interaction. Good negotiation with reasonable outcomes also sets an example for them to emulate in external interactions!
“Successful negotiation is not about getting to ‘yes’; it’s about mastering ‘no’ and understanding what the path to an agreement is.”
~ Christopher Voss