Should You Ever Negotiate with Children?

There may be times it's appropriate to negotiate with your child a little.
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A whiny child makes everyone unhappy. It’s often tempting to give into whines or, at least, negotiate a compromise so he calms down.

But should a parent really be negotiating with their little one? It depends on whom you ask. Some parenting experts think that negotiating with a child teaches them that they can get away with bad behavior, while others suggest that negotiating actually teaches your child a critical life skill.

Why You Shouldn’t Negotiate

When you create rules, schedules and chores for your children, you’re setting expectations. This teaches them appropriate behavior and responsibilities, and it offers them a steady routine (which helps children thrive). When you allow your child to have a say in changing these rules or responsibilities through negotiation, you’re telling him he doesn’t have to meet your expectations.

At the same time, you’re undermining your own authority. If your child wants to get out of the grocery cart and walk, and you tell her “no,” that should be the final say. When you take her out of the cart a minute later, this shows that your word is no good--so why should she listen to it regularly?

Why You Should Negotiate

Life isn’t black and white, so it’s unrealistic to assume that you will never compromise with your child. And, in a way, that’s OK--your little one needs to know how to strike a deal that makes everyone happy.

If you’re an overly authoritarian parent, your child might grow up too compliant with other people. If you’re overly permissive, a child will never learn to negotiate because she always get what she wants.

So, strike a balance and negotiate every once in a while! The key here is not giving in when your child is whining or crying, but rather when she’s making a logical, thought-out argument for why you should see things their way.

Remember, just because you do negotiate sometimes doesn’t mean you always have to negotiate. As the parent, you have the final say--but it is wise to pick you battles and let your child win every once in awhile so she feels like you listen to her.

The Right Way to Negotiate

If you do decide that, occasionally, you’re willing to get into a little deal-making with your child, do so in a manner that will lead to a successful outcome for both of you.

  • Offer choices. When it comes to negotiating, all children really want is a little control over their life. To avoid a power struggle, give your child options up front: the red shirt or the blue shirt? Peas or carrots? Set the table or clean it off? At least she will feel like she has some say in things.
  • Explain the rationale. A child isn’t necessarily mature enough to see the reason behind your rules. When you say he can’t play outside after dark, he might not realize that you think the road in front of your house is unsafe when the sun goes down.
  • Offer flexibility when appropriate. When your child turns into a teenager, you can offer a little leniency on certain things. Ask him to solve the problem -- if a teen wants to stay out later than normal, ask him what he can do to make the situation work out in his favor. He might offer to send you a text with his GPS location from his smartphone every hour so you know that he is where he’s supposed to be and safe.

So, the question still remains: Should you negotiate with your child? As with nearly every parenting decision, the answer is “it depends.” Take into account your child’s age, personality and desire to test boundaries, and then determine if negotiation is the way to go.

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