“You can’t have the knife!” I say in a relaxed manner, trying not to provoke the three year old, “now just slowly give me the knife.”
She looks at me with mad intent, “NO!” she barks forcefully, “my pointy!”
Thinking over my police hostage training (i.e. watching The Negotiator with Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey several times) “Now madam we don’t need to get mad, we can settle this thing peacefully and just go home.” I say hopefully despite the fact we’re already at home.
She gets that look in her eyes, the kind of look that can melt a ten thousand year old glacier, she smiles and hands the knife over, “I just joking.”
#DadRule No.13 You’ll become a master of negotiations.
Negotiating with your kids, what’s that about? I mean you negotiate a bed-time, then in fifteen minutes your having to iron out another agreement. Some will say that negotiations with your spawn is good for them so they can grow into adult-hood with a firm sense of identity and a strong grasp of power, on the surface there’s some sense in this statement.
Let’s think about it in a bit more depth.
What you want from your child:
- To go to bed.
- To eat their dinner.
- to get their shoes on.
- To do what ever you say in a nutshell.
And for the most part as parents we know whats best for our kids, usually because we’ve been there before and experienced it. Some other times its be cause we’re tired and really need to hit the hay, or more often than not is just because we’ve had enough of them and really need them out of our hair.
What your child wants:
- To stay up later.
- To not eat their dinner, because…
- Go barefoot till the ground gets too hot.
- Do the absolute polar opposite of everything you say or ask.
So whats the issue with letting them haggle?
Ultimately is ok for them to haggle, it undoubtably teaches them skills that they’ll use throughout their entire lifes: How to deal with conflict, or see beyond their potential, and of course ironing out deals.
But what you find the longer you’re a parent is: One more TV show finishes and then the negotiations start again, generally with the same cards on the table.
The primary difference between a toddler negotiating and a adult is; the toddler doesn’t actually know what a deal is, doesn’t know when an agreement has been made, and they tend to have goldfish memory, they’re moved by the moment, ahh to be young again.
What starts out feeling like a good strategy, and lets face it the easy way out, turns into a nightmare that drags on into the late hours of the night, or well beyond the end of dinner.
If I let my kids negotiate freely every night, I’d be up till well after midnight with them finally crashing out on the lounge, we’d have piles of sandwiches all over the house not getting eaten, and unlimited YouTube watching. I’ve seen the content on YouTube, not cool!
On top of that it sets them up thinking that if they keep haggling till kingdom come, they’ll think that they always be able to hammer out a deal thats exclusively beneficial. If you’ve ever held any sort of job you’ll know that this just doesn’t exist. If it did I’d still be doing what I was doing last year, while also doing what I do now, but without the responsibility while having all the perks.
Somehow I don’t think corporate America functions that way.
Whats the alternative?
There’s probably lots of things you can do in place of continually ironing out new deals with your kids, here are some to mull over.
- Start a routine: In place of staying up all night to watch the idiot box offer story time before bed, but when the offer is discussed place specific boundaries around the idea. i.e. “We’ll read one story, then we’ll brush our teeth and then we’ll be getting into bed.” Do this in advance of starting, you will always fail if you try to bring rules and boundaries in once the activity’s begun.
- Break the trance: Sometimes kids just zone out and when you interrupt them they get mad and start to haggle. But if you’re able to shift their focus you can sometimes use that break in concentration to shift the pull of whatever they’re doing. Kids are pretty pliable so use that to change the course of their behaviour.
- Charts: Start a routine chart, I’m thinking of instituting this in my house, my idea is a blackboard with the days marked out in white paint, in the spaces you’d write what was expected to happen, when and how. This seems far better that negotiating:
- You can both work on the roster together, making it mutually beneficial.
- Once on the wall the kids can easily see it and follow along.
- It also serves as a contract that you both adhere to, and which you can also periodically review together.
- Create an agreement with you child. Phrase your request so that they have the opportunity to say yes. Often parents tell their kids to do something, this is not a bad thing but not always productive. Asking can sometimes yield better results: “Can you please brush your teeth?” “Can you please take the garbage out?” that sounds far better than “Brush your teeth!” or “Take the garbage out!”
Notice how all these points, and probably others that my beer addled brain can’t think of, are all things that you encounter in the working world. These are things they can expect to encounter as the grow older and start working, these concepts represent a realistic representation of the real world, not the fantasy one of always getting what you want.
Negotiations will happen.
Its true, negotiations will always happen, lets face it we’re all looking for the best deal, better hours, more flexibility. There’s nothing wrong with haggling and trying to better your circumstances, but as adults we know when a reasonable accord has been reached, we generally know when taking the negotiations further can result in a breakdown of communications, and ultimately a worse deal, or perhaps no deal at all. This is the rationality that kids generally don’t possess.
Like with so many other parenting things good planning goes a long way: it keeps you ahead of the curve, prevents rash actions, and can quickly defuse a situation.