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.

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