When Caroline was little, redirection worked amazingly well. However, when we reached the point when distractions and redirections no longer worked, I realized I needed to figure out a way to come to some kind of agreement with this child who had an iron will and a mind of her own (from the womb). Thus began the negotiation phase of our relationship.
Pinterest is full of pins that link to articles about why people don’t negotiate with their children. Some people call a child’s persistence nagging. I never thought of persistence as nagging. I chose to think of it is a trait that is going to serve my child incredibly well as an adult if I can find a way to channel all that focus and energy in a positive direction (and survive the process)!
Some people will say that they don’t “negotiate with terrorists.” Well, guess what? I don’t either because my child is not a terrorist. If you have allowed your child to develop into a terrorist, you have far greater problems than negotiating with them.
I do believe negotiating is an important part of a parent-child relationship. Here are three reasons why I negotiate with my child.
Reason 1: My Child Is an Individual
My child is an individual and I do not rule the world, not even my child’s. Unlike some people who teach that a child’s world revolves around them, I don’t. If I want my child’s world to revolve around anyone, it is Jesus. And I am not Jesus.
I don’t rule her world or try to strip her of the individuality God gave her. I am guiding her on a journey to maturity, one day at a time. (Or, in the case of toddlers, one minute at a time!)
She is an individual with her own complex make-up of needs, desires, fears, and gifts. My responsibility as her parent is to figure out the best ways to steward those gifts and help her understand her unique wiring until she can take over that stewardship on her own.
Reason 2: Negotiating Is an Important Life Skill
Learning how to negotiate is an incredibly important life skill. What better place to learn it than in the safety of the home with people who love and support you?
And when is the better time to start laying the groundwork for how negotiating takes place in your home? When your child is five or when your child is fifteen? Caroline is currently nine and a half. By the time we start hitting the higher stakes negotiating topics, we’ll already have (hopefully) established a solid foundation for give and take in our home.
Which leads to the third reason.
Reason 3: I Do Not Want to Raise a Compliant Adult
If you raise your child to be compliant all the time and constantly yield to you, how do you expect her to be a strong adult who is able to take care of herself once she leaves your care? Parents who constantly demand that their children obey them immediately are doing their children no favors, especially as their children get older. Instead, they are setting them up for a catastrophic adulthood. (Emotionally fragile children of helicopter parents, anyone?)
How will they make decisions for themselves when no one is there to tell them what to do? Or, worse, what happens when they end up in a marriage or job where someone is more than happy to tell them what to do all of the time – even when it is wrong, abusive, or evil?
If I want my daughter to be a strong adult, it starts when she is tiny. It is important to me that my daughter have the the ability to stand up for what she believes. I want her to call out evil when she sees it. I do not want to raise a compliant adult. In my mind, that starts with teaching her how to negotiate with us in our home.
So what are some of the guiding principles in our negotiating?
Establish Boundaries, Routine and Rules
The easiest way to win a negotiation is to not have it in the first place. We’ve established certain routines, rules and boundaries in our home that eliminate the need for negotiations in those areas. We rarely negotiate to go outside those except on special occasions.
For example, no sweets before you finish your lunch and no sweets after 3:00 (because it disrupts sleep). I can only imagine how many treat negotiations we’ve avoided simply because we have this rule in place.
One of the overriding principles in our parenting is thinking win-win. How do I help my child express her desires and also influence her choices with the wisdom I have that comes from experience? That’s where win-win comes in.
Recognize Her Feelings and Wishes
I’m amazed at how many parents think it is optional to recognize their child’s legitimate feelings and wishes. Pretending they don’t exist or ignoring them will not make those feelings go away. It only makes the situation worse. Your child learns she cannot trust you to take her feelings seriously.
We try to affirm that she is feeling a certain way. We try to understand why she feels that way. We acknowledge that her feelings are real and there are reasons behind them. At the same time, we try to help her understand more about how her feelings fit into the big picture of her life, our family, and the world.
Sometimes what she wants isn’t possible and we try to explain why in the context of acknowledging her strong desire or emotions. Sometimes we reach a compromise. Sometimes we say yes. But we always try to leave her with the knowledge that she was heard and her perspective was considered.
Avoid Torpedoing Negotiations Preemptively
The first mistake of negotiating is answering the child’s request too quickly with a negative answer. If you immediately say no, you put yourself in a bad situation if you change your mind again and again. Then you aren’t negotiating. You just look like a weak pushover who gives into her child all the time.
You are far better off stopping for five seconds and thinking before saying anything. Even getting in the habit of saying, ‘Hang on a second. Let me think about that” before discussing it can help so much.
Promote Communication Now For Rewards Later
A couple of weeks ago Caroline made a comment after a bedtime heart to heart talk. She said, “I’m so glad I have a mother who understands me.” I could have burst into tears. She has no idea how much prayer and effort went into her life and mine for me to hear that one brief statement. Years and years worth because she is a complex child. It was all worth it in that one moment.
If you shut down your child when she is four and when she is eight and when she is ten, why in the world would you expect her to come to you when she is thirteen, sixteen or eighteen? If anything, you have taught her that if she really wants something there is no point in talking to you and her best option is to sneak behind your back.
I won’t tell you that everything is going to be perfect as my daughter continues to grow up. I have no way of knowing that. I only know that today I have done what I could to make sure tomorrow is good. And tomorrow I will do what I can to make sure the next day is good. And, by God’s grace, we’ll get there one day at a time.
Negotiating all the way.