How to Negotiate With Kids …


(Article for Fostering Families Magazine)
September 2016

Life with kids often involves negotiation, whether we like it or not. According to Scott Brown, author of How to Negotiate With Kids Even When You Think You Shouldn’t, “The negotiation between parents and kids can actually be a great learning experience for your kids.

Young children, preschoolers, and even teenagers struggle with common conflicts and arguments. As a bio of two, foster of approximately 300 and adoptive parent of six, I have had struggles over many things: I don’t want to take a nap; I want to do it by myself; I can’t dress myself; I don’t want to play! Families also have different cultural values around conflict.
Negotiations are the absolute lifeblood of relationships. Consciously or unconsciously, we put negotiations into play in every relationship and in every family. The process goes on constantly. You negotiate the rules, the power distribution, the standards, the goals, the patterns, the rhythms and the practice of your family.

Katia Hetter, author of “How to negotiate with kids” offers tips for teaching your child the art of negotiation. In the article she states; “don’t be afraid, any good negotiator knows that you can simply say, ‘I’m sorry I was wrong but be careful to fully examine each and every negotiation before making a decision’. Your child will be glad that you took the time to listen to them.

I know my situation isn’t special. Children can debate every aspect of their daily life. It’s our job as a parent to set the boundaries, direct the important choices and instill the values and morals you deem important for your child. At the same time, when involved in any negotiations, you should always strive to listen to your children’s concerns so they at least know they’ve been heard. Explanations about the rules can be teachable moments, even if the rules are non-negotiable.

Children have a completely natural ability to negotiate and (in my experience) they end up winning if you don’t understand the art of negotiation! Grown-up professional people, manipulated and beaten into exhausted submission by toddlers and preschoolers. Kids are going to test limits…it’s their job.
So how does a parent, care provider, relative etc…negotiate in the midst of childhood emotion? Mr. Brown, urges parents not to deal with the emotion with hard cold logic. Here are some checkpoints for successful negotiations.

• Communicate clearly
• Respect the other person
• Recognize and clearly define the problem
• Seek solutions from a variety of sources
• Collaborate to reach a mutual solution
• Be reliable
• Preserve the relationship

If you don’t negotiate with your children, they may not learn how to deal with conflicts constructively. If you don’t teach them how to work with you, they may not learn how to work with others. Children, who feel they have a voice often, feel empowered. Children, who feel they have power usually, feel safe and secure.

In some ways, parents confuse negotiating with somehow empowering their child. Believe me when I tell you, allowing your child to negotiate for things ‘does not’ empower them. Instead, what empowers them is helping them understand their limits. It’s more calming and secure when families have rules that make sense to children and they know where and what those boundaries are. What we as parents forget sometimes, is that it’s our job to stand firm.

Rethink the Conflict…
Rethinking the conflict is one good way to remember how to approach conflict and to begin negotiating. The most effective parents may be like an effective negotiator. They are able to listen, take deep breaths and calm themselves. This will help them think through the process before engaging with their children in an exchange that solves the problem. This will help preserves the relationship with the children in their home. It will also help set an example for managing rather than antagonize conflict. Many times a sense of humor helps the situation along with loads of patience, love and understanding.
Mr. Brown reminds us; “Don’t negotiate everything, not everything is negotiable”. Some of the things that may fall under non-negotiable may be Health, Safety, family rules and Personal Bounders. Realize that a lot of the time, there’s nothing to negotiate. If you have set down family rules then there may not be anything to negotiate. Be clear and concise about the structure of how you handle business in your home. Once you let them ‘over-negotiate’ or wear you down, then your children may never knows if this time they going to get lucky. The child doesn’t know if he’ll get his way this time or not. The truth is we are the ones who train our kids to do that.

Child nagging is a learned behavior that a child of any age can pick up. The child might continue to use it because once, in a moment of weakness, you gave in and let them stay up an extra hour after they asked for the tenth time. Learn the difference in successful negotiation and manipulation. Despite our disappointments and our failures, we must teach our children how to negotiate. I know if I don’t teach my children to think for themselves, they won’t be able to make big decisions as they gets older.

Children with authoritarian parents who don’t allow children to negotiate anything grow up overly compliant or overly disruptive, and children with overly permissive parents don’t learn negotiation because they get what they want anyway, says Julie Braungart-Rieker, a psychology professor and director of the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Children & Families.

Some parents believe you should negotiate while others believe you shouldn’t. There are some who believe that you should when children are old enough to understand the context and art of negotiating. Whatever your position may be, you are still teaching them about negotiation. This will be an art they can use their entire life.

• How to Negotiate with Kids . . . Even if You Think You Shouldn’t: 7 Essential Skills to End Conflict and Bring More Joy into Your Family by Scott Brown
• The Art of Negotiating with Kids-PBS
• How to negotiate with your kids-Kathie Hetter-CNN
• A woman’s Guide to Successful Negotiating/Lee E and Jessica Miller

Written By: Lana Freeman
Bio, Adoptive and Foster Parent
NFPA Board of Directors
FCAO, President
Works for St. Francis Community Service

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