Negotiating with Children – The Pros and Cons

Negotiating with children is like trying to swim against a rip tide. It is difficult, tiring at best and a complete waste of time. Although out of habit or a willingness to please many parents (including me) negotiate everything from when it is time to take a shower to the best way to complete math homework; the raw truth is that parents should always be calling the shots.

This may seem harsh or even a bit arrogant in nature ~ after all as a society we have become all encompassed by the whims, wants and needs of our children, afraid to ignore them for a singular moment to avoid being blamed or guilted for their every shortcoming in life. But let’s be honest, if parents are always negotiating with their children than children will quickly realize that everything….can be debated. Even when a parent says the cliché phrases like “because I said so” or “because I’m the mom, that’s why” kids will feel that they can engage us in a little round of haggling. Tired, irritated and desiring to please we will usually give in only enforcing the fact that we don’t always mean what we say.

If you can recall the older black and white sitcoms like Leave it to Beaver or Happy Days even you can see how far off track new age parents have become. In those days children had a place in the home, to be seen and not heard. They were sent to play in the yard for hours at a time while parents sipped wine or gabbed away for hours in the kitchen. No child interrupted parents when they were speaking nor dared to try to negotiate anything in fear of the ‘belt’ or being holed up in their room for a year. While all of this is a bit extreme it does seem that we have contorted our family structure to allowing the children to be the head of the household. Perhaps mostly in part because along the way we decided that it was okay to negotiate with our children about everything. Many see it as empowering or character developing when it really is a cowardly way to give the perception that our kids do not have to uniformly be subject to our rules and to what it is we say.

In today’s world parents gloat about doing everything for little Johnny and living every breath for precious Lucy foregoing all outside interests and even their own marriages for the sake of the kids. It seems that a modern measure of a good parent has become giving the very most of themselves and the world to their children without expecting anything in return. Parents at McDonalds play land feel proud when they say one more time and than let SuzyQ go up and down 8 more times. They laugh and giggle and then when it really is time to go they wonder why in the world she is screaming her curly head off and running from them? I think most people would agree that fewer children seem to be able to show respect for their parents or appreciation for any of the adults in their life. Seems to me there should be a happy medium of tending to the emotional needs of our children yet allowing them to hold the place in the family that keeps them squarely in line.

Okay, there is room for negotiation sometimes. A typical negotiation with our children should be something along the lines of a choice. We all know that children, especially teenagers do not have the brain capacity or skills to make great or even good decisions; and by offering a choice they will still maintain a level of control and be offered two good choices with which to choose. For instance if curfew is 10pm and they want to stay out until 11pm – give them the choice of not going or being home at 10pm. Chances are they will stay out until 11pm no matter what and then is the time to impose the cruel and unusual punishment of being grounded for several weekends. This teaches responsibility and shows children that the parents are rightfully and appropriately in charge of the household.

Younger children are born to negotiate even before they can talk. How many times have you seen parents negotiating with their kids about what food they will eat and then breaking down and saying “if you eat one bite of the asparagus you can have a cookie?” As the kid spits and sputters over the greens they happily and almost winningly devour the cookie leaving not a crumb. What did that negotiation solve? If the rule is no dessert until they eat their dinner, then no dessert should be given.

It is easy to think that much of this seems a bit stern and completely adrift from the ideal parents that most of us want to be. Truth is kid’s needs parents and kids of all ages need to live within parameters and boundaries that are set forth. If starting at a young age it becomes obvious that the boundaries are either not clear or can be altered at will there are great chances that they will be tried more often. It may be a good idea to get kids involved in creating the boundaries using methods of choice but it is never a great idea to negotiate with children beyond that. If discussion is needed than parents should lead and listen and do what they think is right anyways.

Whether or not you opt for negotiating with children or not there will be times when kids will try. The more you give in, the more the rip tide that is parenting will pull you out to sea. Once you are so far out it can be rather difficult to swim or even float back in. When it comes to our children it is more important to decide what is important than it is to decide that we have to be liked all the time. As adults we realize that in real life very few things are up for negotiation, and the things that are usually still require quite a bit of compromise to work in our favor, perhaps teaching our children that would be a more worthwhile endeavor.



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