Negotiating and Teens – Working the Offer

Some kids are pretty good at negotiating, since they spend a fair portion of life doing so campaigning for later bedtimes, increased allowance and being allowed to watch what they shouldn’t.  But that’s between you and them, and it still doesn’t prepare them for determining what makes decent financial sense.  And it’s part of our jobs as fathers – and mothers, too – to teach them instead of just assuming that they know what to do.

In my simple opinion, the bulk of the negotiation work occurs even before an offer or counter-offer is made.  It occurs with the evaluation of the situation, whether buying something, trading for something or negotiating a slip-and-fall.  To just toss numbers back and forth is a waste of time.  But toss a number that is meaningful to the other person, and you’re much closer to making a deal.

One of the kids told me tonight that a friend was moving up to an iPod Touch and would be getting rid of the old iPod; my kid wanted to buy it from her.  Suppressing my first inclination to say no, I asked why the desire when the kid already owned an iPod.  The answer was that this one was 8 GB – up to a thousand songs, exclusive of any pictures.  And how much money do you have available to spend?  And what other expenses are on the horizon?  And what other funds are incoming to make up for what you spend?

When these were sufficiently answered – not that I liked the answers but that there at least were answers – the next question was the original cost and age of the desired used iPod.  These answers were also satisfactorily available.  And then came the biggies.  What do you plan to offer?  And why?  An amount was being considered, but there was no reason for why.  And that’s where the work begins with the teen.  How do we walk through the situation to find a legitimate offer?

Which is where I am now.  Fortunately, there’s a little time available and I can go back to the teen with an idea for evaluating what the used iPod is actually worth.  And we’ll see how the teen is doing with critical thinking.  Who knows?  Maybe I can also learn something about iPods that I didn’t know before.

You Know You’re Spending Time with the Kids When…

  • You startle a co-worker at lunch by sticking your finger in your mouth and reaching over to wipe a dab of ketchup off of his chin.
  • You get sucked into a heated debate whether Marvel is better than DC and all the reasons that Aquaman is a loser.
  • You’re in public and state that you have to go to the potty.
  • Your kid is in public and excuses herself to go to the restroom.
  • You have kid tunes in your head and find yourself searching for Roger Day’s Mosquito Burrito for your iPod.
  • You can name the characters on iCarly and any other Nick/Disney live-action show.
  • You rue the day that your kid refers to Barney as a giant purple cash-cow.
  • You can look at your kid and notice whether something’s going to fit before he even puts it on.
  • You can visualize how something happened between the kids without even being there.
  • Your kids come over to spontaneously hug you and try to pick you up.
  • You tell them you love them too, now put me down.

Buying Shoes for the Kids

So your child complains about the shoes and that they’re too tight.  And after checking to assure that there is sufficient room for the toes, you have to get another pair. 
But what exactly are you supposed to know about buying shoes?  What are you supposed to do?

Basics on Buying Shoes

There are some basic facts that you have to remember when you go out to buy shoes. 

  • Children need solid support through the arch of the feet as they grow, so buying the cheapie sneaker off of the rack can be ultimately self-defeating as a constant practice of this can lead to problems in the future. Stride Rite has been considered to be the gold standard for small childrens’ shoes.
  • You might consider buying them a small pair before they start to walk so that they’re at least used to the feeling of shoes when they actually take the first steps.
  • Understand that for children, there are two sizing scales.  You have to be careful in discussing sizes whether you’re referring to the scale for toddlers or the one for children who are in elementary school and beyond.
  • The sizing decision can be different depending upon the type of shoe.  You want to move up a half size on dress shoes and a full size on winter boots.

The Basics of Buying Shoes

When you take your child to the shoe store, you’re going to need to use what most people refer to as "that flat, long foot measuring thingy."  At least that’s what I always called it.  That piece of equipment is actually called a Brannock Device and was invented in the 1920s to ease the process.  I could try to explain the process of using it, but it’s better done by simply going to the actual directions.  With children, it’s important to always measure the foot for several reasons.  First, not all children grow at the same rate and a kid could easily have gone two sizes since the last pair without complaint.  Second, if a child is hypersensitive about the feel of something on their feet – one of mine is fanatical about socks – then you can physically point to the number on the device and reassure them that that should be the correct size.

When considering which scale to use, use this as a starting point.  The sizing for Toddler shoes runs from 1 to 13 and when the child outgrows a size 13, they revert back to size 1 on the scale used by everybody else.  A good rule of thumb is that a child will move to the upper scale at about four years of age.  If they’re higher on the growth chart than the typical kid their age, then consider the upper scale size earlier.

You should consider bringing a pair of thinner – think dress – socks when trying on the shoes.  Thicker athletic socks are fine for trying on sneakers, but if you’re looking for dress shoes, then you do want to have the kid in appropriate socks.  Because of health concerns about people trying on new shoes while barefoot, shoe stores are supposed to have disposable hose socks available; I have been in stores however, in which the boxes were empty so it’s worth extra effort to have a pair of socks in your pocket or diaper bag.

If you’re like me, you might find the foot width confusing.  The sizes on shoe boxes are listed as either M(edium) or W(ide), yet the width on the Brannock Device is alphabet based (A through E).  There is a general translation in that the ‘E’ is considered Wide and the ‘C’ is a Medium. 

A reasonable approach for finding a pair would be this.

  1. Measure your child’s foot – and she needs to stand – in the Brannock Device and then find one or more potential pairs of shoes.
  2. Put one or both shoes on her feet, tying them securely, and then take check her toes for room.  Ask her to stand and then lift her big toe as high as possible.  You should simultaneously be pressing your thumb on the very end of the shoe to see about where the raised toe is in relation to the end of the shoe.  The ideal is to have a thumb-width between the big toe and the very end of the shoe.
  3. Take her for a walk around the store.  You can send them for a walk around when older, but the little ones are difficult to see in crowded stores and are more likely to forget where you are.
  4. Pay attention as she walks to how she’s doing in them.  Limping?  Constantly reaching down to readjust or rub them?  Crying her lungs out?  When she walks, does the heel come out of the back of the shoe?
  5. After she removes her shoes, take a look at her heels below the ankle.  Is there redness from the heel rubbing against the back of the shoe?

If everything checks out, then it’s looking good for buying the shoes.  Don’t be surprised if your child complains or whines about the shoes in the next several days.  Examine her feet to see if it appears to be a legitimate issue, but some kids don’t do well with change and that even carries over to the new sneakers.

A Practical Exercise

Petunia is a five year-old with a history of chronic complaints about uncomfortable shoes and clothing, and her normal mode is to shuck off her clothing and don baggy sweat pants and a Barney Sweatshirt as soon as she’s home.  When you see her actually rubbing her toes one night, you decide that perhaps it is time to swing by the shoe store.

Petunia stands and has her foot measured on the Brannock Device and it comes in at 3 for length and D for width.  You have her look down and see how it says 3 – D for future reference.  You find a reasonable pair of size 3 sneakers in Wide (3 W) and since you decide to kill two birds with one stone, you also find a pair of 3 1/2 W Dress shoes.

Have Petunia try each pair on and with each, walk around the store – specifying that she isn’t supposed to actually leave the store.  Also check the location of her big toe and when she takes the shoe off, check her heel for rubbing/redness.  If you’re satisfied that further complaints are really Petunia’s head and not her feet, then they’re good to go.  If there are legitimate issues, then go back and find one or more other pairs to try. 

Sorry, but you can’t just walk in and be done with it.  But a little time spent here is worth a world of upset later.

Special Thanks to Amanda Heisey of Supershoes for her assistance with this article.

Negotiating and Children

Because I grew up in a "highway" household – it’s my way or the highway – I’ve sometimes had difficulty with argumentative children.  And while I don’t want children to question everything that I say, I’m coming to the conclusion that I’m doing them a disservice if I don’t permit some argument.  If it’s a question of safety, absolutely no movement.  This isn’t because I’ve suddenly gotten soft in the head and want to raise disrespectful little brats.  It’s because their futures are going to be vastly different than ours; credit and money flowed to such an extent that people were willing to pay whatever the demanded cost and would only attempt to save money when something was on sale.  People only saved money when the other party said that it was okay to do so.

In a sense, we’ve lost the ability to negotiate with one another and that’s going to be a needed skill in the future.

Some children are naturally more at ease with pushing boundaries and questioning authority than others.  It’s natural that they do so and the ability to question is a future skill that they’ll need.  But the trick that they have to learn, and it only comes with a lot of practice and maturity, is how to make their point in a way that can be best be described as advocacy instead of argument.  The difference between them lies in tone and physical conduct.  How do I help them learn to stand for themselves without whining and petulance so that they don’t alienate others?  How do I help them to develop their skills?

  • Don’t automatically insert yourself when they’re amongst themselves.  If you pay attention, you’ll hear even the youngest children deal amongst themselves.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that if you deem something you overhear unreasonable, that you have to step in and act as the judge making a final disposition.  Ask yourself whether this is an egregious case of taking advantage of someone.  If it’s not, then let it stand since they themselves might be satisfied with the outcome.
  • If you know that a deal’s been struck and it passes the (relatively) equitable test, take a moment to talk with the kids and go over the deal with them.  Is that what you wanted?  If not, what’s different?
  • While it’s frustrating when they argue with you, be patient and ask whether it’s the issue or the way in which they’re handling it.  Is this a safety issue?  If not, see what they might have to say.  When our kids have resorted to whining, we make them stop for several minutes until they can speak without a whine.  The time lapse allows you to also repair your own frayed nerves.  Then come back to it and if it then works, great.  If not, then move on to something else but follow-up with the child later.  They do listen and with reminders, they at least make an effort to improve.
  • Remember that this is yet another of those things that requires repetition and patience.  And then even more repetition.
  • Feel free to replay the situation again and help them with figuring out their options.  Kids don’t know what to say or how to approach situations, so role-playing with them gives them a little needed experience.  Even create a new scenario and play through it with them; joke around and keep it light and short. 
  • Don’t be afraid to go back to an issue.  I can be stubborn and there have been occasions when I’ve said "no" and then had to reconsider.  The result was in my raising the issue again with the child and with further discussion, reaching a good compromise.  But only on occasion.

Negotiating is an important skill and with some practice, even those who are uncomfortable with it can improve.  So the next time, one of the kids starts to disagree, I’m going to grit my teeth and remind myself that it does make a difference.

Dad Isn’t a Babysitter

While listening to the radio today, I heard an interview with a recently laid-off man who stated that he was now "a daddy at home.  I babysit the kids and take them to school."

This guy sounded like he was in shock.  He’s been laid off and has a family.  His household income has been blown to hell and God knows if there’s a mortgage – hopefully not since he could probably rent more cheaply.  But I was struck that he considered himself a babysitter.  He might not be providing an income right now, but he still has far more to offer than just babysitting. 

Fathers have to understand that in the new economic and social world – partially wrought by the demand by women for greater economic and professional gain – they have a corresponding responsibility and right to step up.  They should see themselves as equally able to care for and raise the children, without having to seek approval and permission from Mom for everything.  Men are hampered by the fact that they’ve never paid attention to the details that help run the household.  But that doesn’t mean that they can’t learn.  Men are hampered by the belief that they are incapable of providing the love and attention that children require, but that doesn’t mean that small children can only thrive under a feminine influence.

Children require love.  Attention.  Interaction.  Discipline.  Kindness.

There’s nothing I know of that states that these things are solely the realm of women.

So my hope is that this guy – once he gets his feet back under him – will start to recognize that his role for his kids is not to just keep them safe until Mom gets home. 

Planning Dinner on a Schedule

Having the family eat together is one of the few things on which I’m adamant.  Unfortunately, that becomes more difficult as the children age and move on to activities; there are nights on which it’s impossible.  So if we can’t all eat together, we can all at least have a hot meal in our respective shifts.

The key to making this work anymore is planning, and using the family calendar is crucial.  What’s coming this evening and for the next several nights?  While I’m not religious about it – and it would probably help – I sometimes sit down and plan the meals for a week in advance so that we don’t spend our time eating sandwiches.

Today is a case in point.  One child has a play practice from 6 to 9 pm and another has an activity starting at 6:30, requiring us to leave at 6:00 as well.  There’s also a piano lesson at 4:30.  The kicker is that we have to meet with somebody at the house at 5:15.  The youngest is home with nothing planned and can stay with my mate while I run the other two.  How do I handle this?

  • First, understand that this will not be the evening for a full family meal.  That said, I can eat earlier with the children before the visitor.
  • The afternoon routine won’t permit me to spend much time on food preparation.  If there’s a hot meal, it’s made ahead of time.
  • My available time is in the morning, so any meal preparation has to happen early.

The best option today winds up as a crock-pot chili that can cook through the course of the day with minimal work ahead of time.  With a larger crock-pot, I’ll be able to make enough that tomorrow’s meal is already made since that evening is booked as well.

But at least tomorrow, we can eat together.


First Time Events and Checking with Mom

No, that doesn’t mean that you have no authority and have to check everything with your mate.  But with fathers taking a greater role in the house and family, it’s more likely that something’s going to occur when your mate isn’t there and that’s liable to create some hard feelings. 

Some things are uncontrollable, such as first steps or first words and if you miss it, that’s life.  Other things however, are controllable and some consideration is advisable.  My gold standard was my eldest’s first bite of solid food, which occurred while I was in the restaurant bathroom; I returned to find that she’d been given green beans in my absence, so that I was unable to enjoy the sight of a six month old munching on a bean.  It wasn’t a big deal in the great scheme of things, but it was irritating and it sticks in my craw more than a decade later.

This particular case in point is this morning’s invitation for the youngest’s first sleepover at a friend’s house.  I personally have no objection and will permit it, but am going to run it past the mother to assure that she has no concerns and at least has had the courtesy of a check.  And to be on the safe side, I won’t mention anything to my youngest until the matter is settled.

And that’s another story…

Saving Money on the Holidays

It’s almost Valentine’s Day and the process of gettiing the kids to fill out their valentine cards is commencing.  But the preparation for the holiday actually continues for up to a week afterwards, and that’s restocking for the next year.  While boxes of cards aren’t terribly expensive, getting them at 40% off for the next year is a help.

So what to consider before you do this?

  • Do the math.  How many kids do you have and about how many will each probably give? 
  • Look at the your kids’ genders and ages.  When the kids are young – toddler and preschool – then it usually won’t matter.  But it will start to matter when they get a bit older; your kindergartner is going to have a fit when he finds that he’s giving Disney Princess cards to his buddies.
  • Where can you keep the cards for the coming year so that you know where to find them?  The ideal is to have a place to keep all of the holiday paper items together.  In our house, we have drawers in the garage to hold all of the Valentine and Christmas cards and stickers.
  • Have a sense of what’s current amongst the kids and likely to stay that way.  Disney Princess or Marvel Superhero cards are pretty timeless and it won’t make a difference if they’re carried over for two or even three years.  But cards based upon fads or Japanese Anime – think DragonBall Z – can pass quickly and are likely not to be popular the following year.
  • Does it make more sense for your household to just purchase a simple card software package that will permit you and the kids to make your own cards for whatever holiday you choose?

The truth is that despite the economic conditions, parents will do whatever possible to provide some sense of normalcy for our children.  And with a bit of thought and planning, that can be done for a lot less.

Balancing Children and Housework

If there’s been a source of tension between my wife and I over the years, it’s been about getting the housework done.  What needs to be done and when?  What should be done and when?  And those are two very different things, believe me.  Taking an active role in the household means that there has to be a balance struck between the children and the housework.  The children’s health and safety can depend upon having the housework and clutter under control, yet kids require frequent and significant interaction for them to develop and housework can take a backseat.

It’s not easy to strike that balance and there are going to be times when it might appear almost impossible to do. 

So what might help avoid some of the headaches that this causes?

  • Decide with your mate where your focus should be.  My earliest belief was that I should be spending the large majority of the time with the children and I did so; but it became apparent that the sloppy household would create issues.  Is your mate a neat freak?  Then that might create problems since the clutter and dirt that children create is significant and the interaction with them suffers.
  • Decide with your mate about what should be done.  Create a list of what those chores and items are, as well as a general schedule of how often they need done.
  • Be clear about both your and her expectations of the satisfaction level for the chores.  Does vacuuming mean that you just run the vacuum or does that also include an attachment for use along the edge of the baseboard?  Do you use a polish for the furniture when you dust or just run a rag along it?  Does it make more sense to vacuum and then dust, or vice-versa?
  • Knowing these things, who’s going to be responsible for the items?
  • Be honest about what you actually know how to do.  The truth is that most women were raised to pay attention to the household and picked up more information than guys did.  If it bothers you, flip the situation – would you want your mate to ask how something is done before she dismantles part of the engine or takes something apart?  Sorry if that appears sexist, but it’s the truth.
  • Take a lesson in how to do something before damage is done.  I never bleached laundry until I was home with the kids and managed to ruin multiple pieces of clothing; and the replacement cost came at a time when the funds weren’t really available.
  • Learn what things you can do while you interact with the children.  Can Princess play with clay at the table while you clean the kitchen and talk to her?  Can Junior play with toys in his room while you’re in hanging up the clothing?

There’s no hard/fast answer to this question and it works out differently for each family, but with some effort, honesty and patience – on both parts, ladies – there can be some reasonable balance found.